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For other uses, see MTV (disambiguation).
MTV (Music Television)
Type Cable network (Music/youth culture)
Country United States
Availability National; affiliated services available internationally
Owner MTV Networks (Viacom)
Key people Tom Freston - President, MTV Networks
Launch August 1, 1981
Past Names Sight On Sound

MTV (abbreviation for Music Television) is a cable television network which was originally devoted to music videos, especially popular rock music. MTV later became an outlet for a variety of different material aimed at adolescents and young adults.

The network was founded on August 1, 1981 as an operation of Warner-Amex Satellite Entertainment, a joint venture of Warner Communications and American Express. In 1985, it was acquired by Viacom Inc., and was folded into MTV Networks, becoming a wholly owned subsidiary. MTV's combination of music videos, youthful video jockeys, irreverent commentary, promotion of special rock concerts, and news and documentaries about bands and performers established the network's popularity with youthful viewers, and it became a leading promoter of new rock music and rock musicians. MTV is often considered a driving force in pop culture.



MTV series


Video Music Awards
Total Request Live

Music Videos by Year
1981 - 1982 - 1983
1984 - 1985 - 1986
1987 - 1988 - 1989
1990 - 1991 - 1992
1993 - 1994 - 1995
1996 - 1997 - 1998
1999 - 2000 - 2001
2002 - 2003 - 2004
2005 - 2006


MTV's roots can be traced back to 1977, when Warner-Amex Cable (a joint venture between Warner Communications and American Express) launched the first two-way interactive cable TV system, Qube, in Columbus, Ohio. The Qube system offered many specialized channels, including a children's channel called Pinwheel which would later become Nickelodeon. One of these specialized channels was Sight On Sound, a music channel that featured concert footage and music oriented TV programs; with the interactive Qube service, viewers could vote for their favorite songs and artists. The popularity of the channel prompted Warner Amex to market the channel nationally to other cable services. At midnight on August 1, 1981, the format was changed to music video (using a concept originally devised and sold to Warner Amex by Michael Nesmith, previously a member of the hit pop band The Monkees) and the name was changed to "MTV—Music Television".

MTV started in New York City but was available in most of the United States by the mid-1980s with the nationwide expansion of cable.

Appropriately, the first music video shown on MTV was "Video Killed the Radio Star" by The Buggles (with similar tongue-in-cheek humor, the first video shown on MTV Europe was "Money for Nothing," by Dire Straits, which starts with repetition of the line "I want my MTV," voiced by Sting; In MTV Latino, the first video shown was "We Are Southamerican Rockers" by the chilean band Los Prisioneros).

The early format of the network was modeled after Top 40 radio. Fresh-faced young men and women were hired to host the show's programming, and to introduce videos that were being played. The term VJ (video jockey) was coined, a play on the term DJ (disc jockey.) Many VJs eventually became celebrities in their own right. The early music videos that made up the bulk of the network's programming in the '80s were often crude promotional or concert clips from whatever sources could be found; as the popularity of the network rose, and record companies recognized the potential of the medium as a tool to gain recognition and publicity, they began to create increasingly elaborate clips specifically for the network. Several noted film directors got their start creating music videos.

A large number of rock stars of the 1980s and 1990s were made into household names by MTV. 1980s bands immediately identifiable with MTV include Duran Duran and Bon Jovi. Michael Jackson launched the second wave of his career as an MTV staple. Madonna rose to fame on MTV in the 1980s, and to this day continues to use the network to promote her music.

In 1984 the network produced its first MTV Video Music Awards show. Seen as a fit of self-indulgence by a fledgling network at the time, the "VMAs" developed into a music-industry showcase marketed as a hip antidote to the Grammy awards. In 1992, the network would add a movie award show with similar success.

After MTV's programming shifted towards heavy metal and rap music, MTV Networks launched a second network, Video Hits 1 (VH1), in 1985. VH1 featured more popular music than MTV. Today, MTV Networks also owns Nickelodeon, a cable channel airing children's and family programming.

MTV in the mid-'90s, shortly before the transition to non-music programming
MTV in the mid-'90s, shortly before the transition to non-music programming

MTV started off showing music videos nearly full-time, but as time passed they introduced a variety of other shows, including animated cartoons such as Beavis and Butt-head and Daria; "reality" shows such as The Real World and Road Rules; prank/comedic shows such as The Tom Green Show, Jackass, and Punk'd; and soap operas such as Undressed. By the second half of the 1990s, MTV programming consisted primarily of non-music programming. In 2000, MTV's Fear became the first 'scary' reality show where contestants filmed themselves. The show ran for three seasons and spawned numerous imitations, including the currently running Fear Factor on NBC. In 2002, MTV aired the first episode of another reality show, The Osbournes, based on the everyday life of former, Black Sabbath frontman Ozzy Osbourne, his wife Sharon, and two of their children, Jack and Kelly. The show went on to become one of the network's biggest ever success stories and kick-started a musical career for Kelly Osbourne, while Sharon Osbourne went on to host a talk show on U.S. television. In 2003, Newlyweds, another popular reality TV show that follows the lives of Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey, a music celebrity couple, began. It has run for three seasons. The success of Newlyweds was followed in June 2004 by The Ashlee Simpson Show, which documented the beginnings of the music career of Ashlee Simpson, Jessica Simpson's younger sister. In the fall of 2004, Ozzy Osbourne's reality show Battle for Ozzfest aired.

In 2004, MTV's parent company Viacom bought Germany's largest provider for music television Viva Media AG, thereby creating the largest company for music on the European mainland. In November 2004, MTV announced it would begin airing in February 2005 MTV Base in Africa, [1] thereby reaching the world's last major populated area previously not served by MTV.

See also: List of MTV Shows


The advent of digital satellite and cable has also brought greater diversity including channels such as MTV2, which features the slogan "Where The Music's At." In the U.S., MTV2 focuses on playing music videos and other music-related programming; in Europe, MTV2 plays specific genres of music (mainly alternative and rock). Viacom, parent company of the MTV Networks, is also behind VH1, which is aimed at the older market segments with more focus on music from the 1970s and 1980s; and CMT, which targets the country music market.

MTV recently broadcast a new Indian Pop Culture channel called MTV Desi and University-oriented channel mtvU.

See also: List of MTV diversification

Criticism of MTV

In its early years, MTV was criticized as racist, since the acts it featured were nearly exclusively white. MTV executives countered by claiming that there were few—if any—promotional videos available from black and other minority acts, although artists such as Diana Ross and The Jacksons had been making music videos before MTV existed. Shortly thereafter, the network began heavily featuring videos from Michael Jackson's album Thriller, in particular "Billie Jean" and "Thriller", which became two of the all-time most popular videos on the network. Subsequently, MTV would delve heavily into black musical acts, developing several hip-hop music-themed programs such as Yo! MTV Raps, and a digital cable channel called MTV Jams.

Because of its visibility as a promotional tool for the recording industry, MTV has been criticized as overly commercial and accused of denigrating the importance of music in the music industry (replacing it with a purely visual aesthetic). As early as 1985, some musicians were criticizing MTV for these reasons, perhaps most famously Dead Kennedys with "MTV Get Off The Air."

MTV UK has recently been under fire as it no longer airs any daytime music videos, outside of parts of a few shows like Total Request Live and Making The Video, and focuses primarily on MTV produced reality shows such as The Osbournes and Punk'd. Many argue, however, that as MTV runs nine music channels in the UK, it has delegated music videos to its genre channels in a bid to differentiate itself from the competition of the fourteen other music video-oriented channels. Videos are also often played between other shows and at night.

The same criticism has also been made of MTV in the USA, with its dearth of music videos, and its stronger focus on reality shows such as Road Rules, The Real World, and others as well. The primary U.S. MTV channel does occasionally play music videos (albeit rarely) instead of exclusively relegating them to their genre channels.

MTV UK has also been attacked for over-use of on-screen graphics, such as logos, programme promotion and countdown timers, and its electronica-themed genre channel MTV Dance is often derided for playing a lack of dance music during the day, preferring a mix of pop-dance, pop, and R&B. Ironically, the channel has also been criticized for lacking programming.

Critics also claim that bands sell well because they get a lot of exposure on MTV, rather than MTV picking the best bands to promote; and that MTV has too much influence in the music industry. Although it could be argued that MTV is simply giving airtime to the most popular acts in a given country, the counter-argument could also be made that these acts get popular simply because of the exposure that MTV gives them.

There have also been some critics who have said that MTV promotes bad behavior to the youth of America by embracing the behaviors of certain celebrities who are not good role models. It was also said by someone that 'MTV was porn for children!' (later in the evening and during the night, MTV tend to show slightly more adult-themed programming).

MTV (and its sister channel, VH1, which also broadcast the event) drew heavy criticism for its coverage of Live 8, the multinational concert of musical artists which raised awareness for African debt relief. The broadcast of the music was limited, as the network cut to its on-air personalities, celebrity interviews, and commercials in the middle of live acts. The epitome of this was the widely reported decision to cut to commercial during Pink Floyd's performance in London, which was bassist Roger Waters' first performance with the rest of the band since 1981. MTV VJ's came onscreen to talk during the first guitar solo in "Comfortably Numb," then cut back for a few seconds before playing a commercial. 1 Because of the criticism the channel received over this, both MTV and VH1 decided to show the whole 10-hour Live 8 concert again the following weekend, this time without any commercial breaks or VJ interruptions.

MTV has also come under criticism for being far too politically correct and sensitive when it came to censorship. This was most prevalent in the eventual decline of the hit show Jackass. The creators of Jackass often felt that MTV's producers did not let the show run its free course due to the excessive restraints they put the Jackass team under.

Political influence

After so many shots to the network about the content of programmes, they started showing a plethora of political and economic shows. These shows include: "think MTV," which talks about current political issues such as gay marriage, the U.S. presidential election (last year they spent a large amount of time on the 2004 election), and war in other countries, among other topics. They had a popular band Sum 41 go to the African congo and document the environment there. The group ended up being caught in the midst of an attack outside of the hotel, were driven to a nearby US holding camp which the military was protecting, and flown out of the country.

Other politically diverse programmes include "True Life," which documents people's lives and problems, and shows an epilogue of after the show was shot; MTV News Specials, which centers on very current events in both the music industry and the world; and a lot of other shows based on the current times. Last year they had a huge involvement in the 2004 election, airing programs with the youth voicing their opinions, there was a question show where teens submitted questions on and got to ask Senator John Kerry those questions live. They even had a count-off of the state elections where the VJs hosted and covered the election, crossing off a state in blue or red based on whether they had voted Republican or Democratic. MTV became very politically involved.


MTV has had a long history with cartoons based often on more mature themes, the most notable probably being Beavis and Butt-head, and its spin-off, Daria. Most of its other cartoons have lasted only for a single season, despite usually being original and creative.

Some of the cartoons featured are:


  • "I want my MTV"
  • "MTV... Proud as a Moon Man" (Weird Al Yankovic's spoof of NBC's 1979-1981 slogan Proud as a Peacock)
  • "MTV Lives In Your Music"
  • "Some People Just Don't Get It"
  • "Watch and Learn"
  • "M-m-m-m T-t-t-t V-v-v-v"
  • "MTV News: You Hear it First"
  • "MT-blah: Blah-blah Tele-blah"
  • "I love my MTV"
  • "The Number One Music Channel" (slogan used for MTV UK from 2000 to 2002 as the channel broadcasts on digital cable and digital satellite, the slogan was axed in 2003. The fact that since then MTV has played very little music may also add to why this slogan was dropped.)
  • "I Like..." (MTV Asia)
  • "Don't let Jerry Win. Best watch your MTV's"
  • "Think"
  • "Not on TV, on M-TV"
  • "Best Watch Your MTVs"
  • "Just See MTV"
  • "MTV Enjoy"
  • "MTV Gue Banget"
  • "MTV Ayos"
  • "Habla Tu MTV"

Cultural references to MTV

The declining popularity of MTV was featured in the opening credits of an episode of Season 9 of The Simpsons, where Bart Simpson is seen writing the phrase "I no longer want my MTV" repeatedly on a chalkboard in a parody of the opening sequence of the Dire Straits song "Money for Nothing". The song "MTV Get off the Air!" by the Dead Kennedys was a protest against the content and style of music that dominated MTV during the 80's. The Bowling for Soup hit, "1985," contains the line, "Bring back Springsteen, Madonna, way before Nirvana there was U2 and Blondie, and music still on MTV." MTV was also mentioned in the Manowar song "Blow Your Speakers." and in the Reel Big Fish song "Don't Start A Band"

MTV on other media


The domain was originally registered personally by then-VJ Adam Curry in the early 1990s. Curry operated a semi-official website for the network until he left the station in 1994—after some acrimony, MTV settled with him to regain the rights to the domain. The MTV website is now large and extremely popular, a key part of the network's brand identity.

Cellular phones

*MTV is wireless content available on Virgin Mobile USA phones. It can be accessed from both of Virgin Mobile USA's online portals; VirginXtras or VirginXL. MTV provides news, games, artist information, and other music-related features through this wireless site. MTV has been a partner of Virgin Mobile USA since the carrier's launch in the summer of 2002. Virgin Mobile also has a partnership with Comedy Central, which is owned by MTV Networks, the parent company of both networks. In Europe, Australia, and Hong Kong, MTV content is available to mobile phone users on the 3 network.

Satellite radio

There is a MTV station on XM Satellite Radio.

See also

External links

Viacom Inc.

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Misc. Assets: Infinity Broadcasting | Neopets | Paramount Parks | Paramount Pictures | Republic Pictures | Simon & Schuster | Viacom Outdoor
Television Assets: BET | CBS | Comedy Central | King World | MTV | MTV Networks | Paramount Television | Showtime | UPN | VH1

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