In 1981, MTV exploded into American homes and changed the entertainment and media industries forever. It combined television and radio, and added a raw flair that was distinctively youth oriented. As the first network to speak directly to the teenage/young adult market it became the spoiled child of the advertising industry. Companies nationwide who wanted to market to young adults took advantage of MTV until the network became a 24 hour commercial. It was the ultimate source of American popular culture including music, style, attitude, language, belief structures, behaviors and so on. As its power in the United States rose, the network began to expand globally, venturing into the European market before its tenth birthday. MTV has drastically changed youth culture around the world, defining popular culture and speaking on behalf of young adults everywhere. MTV has transported its powerful advertising clout to millions of youth and is often criticized for peddling American culture to the rest of the world. Many intellectuals slam the network for destroying traditions and imposing American values and beliefs thereby forcing a homogenization of world youth culture. Even with all of this critical disapproval, MTV continues to expand globally, launching twenty new feeds in the past five years. International MTV, although assumed to be negative by many, has several positive effects on this new global youth culture.
MTV began as a small cable channel in 1981, determined to bring music to the masses 24 hours a day. It has been referred to as “the most researched channel in history” . Nothing was left to chance. The plan was to create an all music channel directed towards teenagers and young adults. The concept of a demographically directed network was in its infancy. American television was just coming into the Cable Era and demographic networks had not been fully developed. Nickelodeon had been launched in 1979 as the first network with all children’s programming but there was no network specifically for teens and young adults. MTV was obliged to negotiate with cable companies in New York and Los Angeles to carry the channel, as many industry experts believed that it was doomed to fail. The music video was not yet an established medium in the United States and the channel struggled to find content to fill the day. Choosing from a limited library of about 120 videos, content also included interviews with popular musicians and other celebrities, broadcast concert information and music-related news along with clips from live shows and concerts.
By the beginning of 1984, MTV was no longer a fledgling channel but a respected network dedicated to the music of its loyal viewers. As a new medium for music, it drastically changed the industry regarding music marketing and consumption. It offered executives another method of promoting artists instead of concert tours and radio; now, potential customers would be able to see the artist as well as hear the music in their homes. MTV also reached a much larger audience than any concert tour would. In a Nielsen study conducted in October 1982 of 2000 potential MTV viewers, 85% said that they watched MTV at an average of 4.6 hours per week and 63% of the viewers said that they had purchased a musician’s album after seeing the clip . Artists featured on MTV climbed the charts at an alarming rate: music stores claimed to order extra units if the music had been on MTV and in 1984, the National Association for Record Manufacturers gave the Presidential Award to MTV for reviving the industry .
Because of its strong following in a key demographic, advertisers swamped the channel with requests for commercial time. MTV was a powerhouse of American marketing thereby changing in economic environment for industries outside of music as well. MTV defined style and the artists became known not only for their music but for their clothes and attitude as well. The channel became an excellent example of what was cool in fashion at the moment. Clothing companies loved the network, because an advertisement on during one of its most popular time slots was a guaranteed increase in business. By June 1983, MTV had sold advertising time to 140 companies representing more than 240 consumer products .
After MTV had dominated the American music and advertising industries, it set its sights globally. On August 1, 1987, six years to the day after MTV launched in America, MTV Europe was launched reaching an audience of 1.6 million subscribers in fourteen countries . Network executives realized that simply broadcasting the American feed to Europe would not work. Europeans had drastically different musical and stylistic tastes and American MTV would not be successful in this new market. Instead, MTV Europe was launched as a pan-European, speaking directly to European markets. At the launch party, held in an Amsterdam club, hundreds of powerful international music executives mingled among gold painted, scantily clad women and a middle-aged Elton John rocking out.
Since then, MTV Networks has expanded to include 34 customized feeds in 164 countries through eighteen different languages . The channel now reaches approximately 375 million households worldwide and has an estimated viewing audience of one billion, more than twice the size of CNN International . It has become a staple in most developed countries as a source of youth culture and products. Its success depends on the interest of advertisers around the world. Without a strong following of youth, MTV would have very little power in any market. In many communities, MTV originated the idea of music television and niche programming thereby creating a monopoly over the advertising to this demographic. Unfortunately, MTV International executives have made choices that have alienated youth in new markets, forcing the network to drastically change its format or content to attract a given market.
Contrary to popular American opinion, MTV International content is not primarily focused around American culture and products. It is impossible to create successful international networks based on American content alone. Eight out of every ten MTV viewers live outside the US and the power of American popular culture is often over estimated by the average critic. In most MTV international channels, between 50-80% of the content is locally produced while the remainder is “international programming” (see Figure 1). This is not to say that international programming is defined as American programming as is generally assumed. Many of MTV US cartoons and animated series are exported to other countries such as Beavis and Butthead, Daria, Liquid Television and more are exported internationally but are often dubbed. Sometime the dialogue will be changed so that international audiences can understand American jokes. Videos by American artists that are internationally known such as Michael Jackson, Madonna and Britney Spears also frequent MTV International airwaves but repackaged American content will not sell in international markets. MTV International president, Bill Roedy claims that, “If there is one thing we’ve learned, its to work hard to be a local company; there are 2000 employees in MTV International and less than 1% are American. Co-production and joint partnerships are the cornerstone of our philosophy. Because we’ve positioned ourselves that way, we’re become complete intertwined with local product and culture. ”
Much of the local content produced within the community parallels the shows coming out of the US. Universal program topics include top 10 countdowns, music panel discussions, cultural discussions, music and international news, dance programs such as Club MTV, dating shows and game shows but each channel’s programming is modified to appeal to its local audience. Figure 1 lists the top rated shows from the top 18 MTV International channels along with the amount of international content found on the channel. Even with this large percentage of local programming, executives often make poor decisions regarding the preferences and needs of the international markets.
MTV Europe began broadcasting in Germany in 1989, less than 24 hours later, the Berlin Wall collapsed. The network was there to cover it; broadcasting from East Berlin, they documented the collapse with a distinctive MTV style, rock music blaring and Berlin youth waving MTV flags from the top of the rubble. It seemed that MTV had established a connection with German youth by becoming directly involved in the most important aspects of their life. Unfortunately, MTV was not the first channel to integrate music and television in this region. By the time the network had broken into the German market, there were already several other music television stations operating successfully including Viva (Germany’s leading music channel) and ONYX. MTV Europe was broadcast on German cable channels providing content not specialized for a German market. Many Germans were confused by the music and the language. MTV Europe was broadcast in English and many of the jokes and assorted vee-jay banter was lost on the audience. Dieter Corney, the managing director of Viva commented, “If you want to have a successful music channel in Germany, you can’t do it without German artists; otherwise, you’re programming over people’s heads. ” In 1997, MTV Europe began to splinter into a series of localized networks and Germany had its own channel, MTV Central Europe. MTV Germany now reaches an audience of approximately 2.7 million viewers over the age of 14 while Viva reaches over 4 million. Many feel that this venture will fail due to the success of the established competition.
Another failed launch occurred with MTV India in 1999. Upon inception, the MTV India executives believed that it was about time to expose Indian youths to outside genres of music. The country’s popular culture has been dominated by its local music, movies and Bollywood culture. The executives decided that this was not cool anymore and filled the channel with international content. Under this guidance, MTV India failed to capture the attention of Indian youth. Traditional culture is deep rooted in Indian popular culture and MTV could not ignore this. By not attracting their target demographic, MTV India began to lose money from advertisers and was forced to change the format. Less than a year later, MTV India relaunched, embracing the colorful tones and style of Bollywood culture. The viewing audience increased by 700% and MTV became an established part of Indian youth culture .
Time and time again, MTV International has learned from its mistakes. Every market is different and requires a different approach. The difficulties that MTV experienced during its climb to the top of American popular culture is repeated at some level with every international channel. In some cases, MTV International will participate in joint ventures with other established television networks to ease the transition into new markets. In 2000, MTV entered into a strategic alliance with NBC networks to launch a 24-hour terrestrial service in the Philippines. By utilizing NBC’s knowledge of the Philippino television market, MTV has a better chance of succeeding with less initial experimentation. The CEO of NBC remarked, “I’m delighted to be working with MTV, which is such a powerful global brand and youth marketer as well as the leading music channel in Asia. MTV will bring its distinctive programming content to this, while NBC will contribute its Philippine market knowledge, national distribution and operations expertise. Together MTV and NBC will be a formidable partnership in the Philippines. ”
The process of inhabiting international markets is one of intricate diplomacy. The communications policy in many of MTV’s international markets is drastically different from American policy. Here, we posses a commercially driven media market, while in other countries, the government regulates media distribution. In order for MTV to expand globally, the approval of government committees is required. The president of MTV international, Bill Roedy, meets regularly with international leaders such as the Prime Minister of Israel, Shimon Peres, Singapore founder, Lee Kuan Yew and even Cuban Leader, Fidel Castro. “We had very little resistance once we explain that we’re not in the business of exporting American culture” (Business Week 2/18/02).
Many critics of MTV International believe this to be wrong. Many feel that MTV is promoting not just globalization but Americanization by controlling cultural sources around the world. Americanization is defined as making something American in form style or character (dictionary.com) or the propagation of Americanism, which is defined as allegiance to the United States and its customs and institutions. It is uncertain of what MTV is promoting internationally if it is not American culture (including music, clothing, attitude, language and beliefs).
After MTV has established a successful channel within a given society, the effects are swift and powerful. MTV drastically changed the music and advertising industries in America and seeks to do the same in other international markets. By adding a visual aspect to music, the music industry shifted their focus from music to style. Artists featured on MTV climb to the top of the charts whether or not they are considered “good” by critical standards and artists that are featured on MTV are often stereotypically attractive according to the standards of the given market. Instead of simply promoting music, the channel has pushed the industry towards producing MTV-friendly acts. Since only a small percentage of albums released every year are successful, recording labels will discard artists who do not fit the MTV format for pop stars. Because of MTV, many artists do not even have the chance to have their music recorded. Popular music falls into a formulaic procedure wherein recording companies tailor acts for MTV. This demand for blockbuster acts forces a shift towards a homogenized music industry.
Alternatively, International MTV also creates a global music community by endorsing acts on an international scale. MTV’s establishment as a culture source for many societies allows it to introduce international acts that would not normally traverse markets easily. Such acts include the Russian lesbian pop duo, t.A.T.u, one of the first Russian music acts to succeed in America (due in a large part to the video featuring the two girls dancing in the rain dressed in schoolgirl uniforms); Shakira, whose Unplugged performance became and international success through MTV Latin and eventually MTV US; and Jay Chao who has become the first Chinese artist to have a video featured in MTV Italia without subtitles.
As MTV becomes a cultural powerhouse within a given society, advertisers rely upon the channel to promote all sorts of products including clothing, food, jewelry, acne medicine, and anything else young adults might purchase. MTV has created not a only a community united by age but also by purchasing power. It has turned the global youth community into a marketplace accessible to all advertisers. MTV promotes fashion as well as music. Clothes worn by vee-jays and artists quickly become the latest style and are worn by teenagers across the country. The Network also peddles books and technology as well. In societies where social status and personal worth are defined by image, consumers are desperate to know what is popular and fashionable. Young adults can turn to MTV to discover the latest trends, who is sporting them and where to buy them. MTV has the power to create fads and then endorse, sell and profit from them.
Demographic-oriented television and niche marketing have also had drastic effects on the social structure of or any market. In America, television has moved from a family activity to a personal activity. In the 60s and 70s, families gathered around the television together to watch, with the explosion of cable in the 80s and the success of MTV, stations have steadily moved towards demographic-oriented programming, seeking out a certain market as audience thereby making the program more attractive to advertisers. Commercially driven media will always prioritize the advertiser over the consumer because that is the main source of income. Television niche marketing was allowed to develop slowly in the US, but once established, the techniques were pushed upon other cultures and communities who may be unaccustomed to such marketing techniques. Viewing the audience as a market is a core principle of MTV and forces a similar splintering of social groups in international markets. It “has given youth a voice and sense of identity in cultures where their elders held all the cards” (multichannel news 6/11/01).
Whatever Americanism is, it involves speed. Americans are assumed to be impatient and possess short attention spans. These assumptions alter the style of American media. We receive information in short, intense, sensational bursts. The fast paced editing of music videos has infiltrated the editing techniques in other facets of media including news, commercials, sitcoms and so on. This MTV editing style has accompanied the network’s global domination and has a style that not only defines youth culture but is also an excellent marketing tool.
In the fast paced, commercially driven, blockbuster society that MTV fosters, the entertainment industry is required to remain one step ahead of the larger public. the industry is constantly searching for new artists, movies, trends and fads that will generate huge profits for a short period of time. This need for the next big thing encourages cultural lag. Cultural lag is occurs when material culture changes so fast that immaterial culture (e.g. government, social norms, moral structures) falls dangerously behind (Foreign Policy Sept, 2000 Will Globalization Make You Happy? (Psychological and social effects of globalization) Robert Wright). In traditional societies, where culture tends to change slowly, MTV’s influence is strongly felt and often seen as having a negative effect on the state of the society. Acceptance of MTV in regions like Asia and India was slow and often difficult. The channel was met with great resistance by established leaders in the community and found the youth tastes difficult to read. “The network that made its name with brash boundary pushing has had to tread a more careful line in Asia — without abandoning its edgy core values completely” (variety 10/8/01) Outside of the United States, these channels have the largest percentage of local programming [figure 1] and approximately 80% of the artists featured on these channels are local. (Variety 10/8/01).
MTV International attempts to liberate its viewers, to encourage independent thought and actions as well as a full enjoyment of one’s youth. Critics often view this act of liberation as perpetuating American ways of thinking. One of the primary beliefs that MTV is accused of disseminating is the idea of sex before marriage. The truth is that sex sells, and if one resides in a commercially driven economy, sexuality will become an issue among youth. Also, if MTV encourages independent thought in international youth, sex is a topic that must be discussed. Teenage years are filled with changing sexual knowledge that is of interest to the MTV viewers, no matter what country or society.
Although all of these criticisms may be valid on some level, MTV has created a international community. From the beginning, the network was aware of its public duty; it was a network that spoke directly to young adults, an impressionable and curious group desperate for information. MTV has not only used its powers over this demographic to make money but also the raise awareness. The network redeemed its impression in the eyes of American critics with several broadcasts such as the AIDS benefit concert in 1984, USA for Africa and the famous 1992 Choose or Lose campaign that encouraged youth to get out and vote in the upcoming election. On a global scale, MTV Networks has synchronized internationally for a few critical events that effected youth worldwide.
In 2000, MTV observed World AIDS Day by offering socially conscious programming on all of its individual feeds and premiered two original programs, “Staying Alive 2” hosted by international star, Ricky Martin, and “Music with a Message: World AIDS Day 2000” concert. “The most meaningful contribution MTV can make to this fight is by talking to its audience base… hundreds of millions of young people. In addition, we are urging other broadcasters around teh world to accept our offer to air “Staying Alive 2″ rights free, in order to highlight HIV & AIDS issues to an even wider audience,” said Roedy (PRN 11/20/00). Through this deal, the program broadcast in parts of Africa including South Africa, Kenya, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Although MTV has yet to infiltrate the African continent, the broadcast reached a society where 70% of the world’s AIDS population resides (PRN 11/20/00).
On February 14, 2002, MTV held an international forum with the United States Secretary of State, Colin Powell. The forum was entitled, “Be Heard: An MTV Global discussion with Colin Powell” and gave young people around the world the opportunity to ask provocative questions regarding the war on terrorism and other world issues directly affecting them. The forum featured young people from the US, India, the Middle East, Italy, UK/Ireland, Brasil and Russia live via satellite and was provided to all MTV channels around the world (PRN 2/14/02). The discussion featured young adults from various religions and racial backgrounds and was mediated by international vee-jays and student leaders. They were unafraid to ask question often considered too risqué for most established journalists. “Powell blushed after a student located at MTV’s Milan, Italy studio asked Powell for his take on the Catholic Church’s opposition to condoms; Another forum participant, located in a studio in London, asked Powell how he feels “about representing a country commonly perceived as the Satan of contemporary politics” (Multichannel News Feb 18, 2002 Powell blushes during MTV forum.(Secretary of State Colin Powell appears on MTV: Music Television)(Brief Article) Author/s: Steve Donohue).
With all of this evidence, it is clear that MTV has fostered a global community based on the interests of young adults around the world. Although the network is sensitive to the needs and attitudes of their local market, there are certain aspects of youth culture that are universal, partying and sex. MTV must embody both to reach the largest percentage of young adults. Once the network has captured their attention, the content is primarily marketing speckled with educational programming to fulfill their philanthropic goals in order to avoid complete critical disapproval. But it seems impossible to fully trust a network whose main goal is to sell products and turn the world’s youth community into a marketplace. Regarding the charge of Americanization: American ideals are coming from liberal thought. Globalization encourages liberal ideas. America has made the decision to embrace liberal belief patterns as part of its development. As the world becomes liberated from ideas of tradition and culture, it will lean towards ideas that have been established by America because if its lack of tradition and culture. Therefore MTV is not guilty of perpetuating Americanism, but rather encouraging globalization.
Top Rated Programs of Various International MTV channels Intl. Top-rated
Network playlist program
MTV USA 2% TRL
MTV Italia 30% TRL: Live from Milan
MTV India 30% MTV Bakra
MTV China 33% Tian Lai Cun
MTV Mandarin 40% MTV: Mandarin Top 20
MTV Japan 40% World Chart Express
MTV U.K./Ireland 44% Select
MTV Korea 50% MTV Jams
MTV Brasil 50% Fica Comigo
MTV Russia 55% 12 Angry Viewers
MTV Latin America 65% Loz Diez m-s Pedidos
MTV Central (Europe) 70% Golden Boy
MTV Polska 80% Dzika Szafa Grajaca
MTV Nordic 80% MTV: New
MTV Europe 80% Select
MTV Espana `80% Select
MTV France `85% MTV Live
MTV Netherlands `90% The Tom Green Show
(Source: Variety Oct 8, 2001 Asian operation built on local rhythms.(MTV Asia)(Brief Article) Author/s: Jeremy Hansen)