Still Want Your MTV?

You don’t see a lot of positive news about anything related to MTV these days.  The network has officially entered middle age, having turned 40 last year, and today’s younger audiences are far more likely to eschew linear television completely.  Their parents drove the network, and cable television adoption in general, by imploring “I Want My MTV!”.  Those parents are now being urged to subscribe to Paramount+ to see new episodes of their beloved Beavis and Butt-Head, and can now subscribe to services from Walmart, of all places, to find a way around that incremental cost.

Moreover, MTV strayed from its music roots decades ago, eschewing videos and music-related content for reality TV, becoming a beachhead for the likes of REAL WORLD, JERSEY SHORE, CATFISH, etc.  But when it did have a more eponymous content focus in the mid-1980s, the Video Music Awards (VMAs) were instituted as a cooler, hipper answer to the Grammys, and it has managed to continue, with a tentpole around the last Sunday before Labor Day as an unofficial signpost to the end of summer and the beginning of (ugh) the new school year.

So when news broke yesterday that the 2022 VMAs actually improved its year/year audience delivery by +3%, what would at first blush appear to a “dog bites man” story needs, IMO, a bit more context to reinforce how significant an achievement that was.

For one thing, even with the qualifier of building upon more pandemic-impacted content from 2021, awards shows–particularly ones honoring music–aren’t exactl showing a great trajectory.  As Gavin Bridge of Variety!’s VIP+ platform (for my money, perhaps the best online reference for truth-telling available these days) reported earlier this summer, year/year trends of other awards apart from the Oscars haven’t exactly been stellar:

Grammy Awards: +4%

CMA Awards (vs. ACMA awards): -17%

Billboard Music Awards: -8%

MTV Movie and TV Awards: -9%

The Grammys had the asterisk of being available on Paramount+; the VMAs were not.  And none of these others had the competition of Episode 2 of HOUSE OF THE DRAGON, which itself posted a +3% improvement over its week-ago premiere, siphoning off 10 million viewers from the linear TV ecosystem.

Perhaps more telling was the explosion of social interactions, which include Tik Tok and Twitter video clips of the show’s more significant speeches and performances (Lizzo, Taylor Swift, Nicki Manaj and Bad Bunny, to name a few), as well as the discussions and commentaries about them.  According to Talkwalker, a third-party measurer formerly known as Nielsen Social, the VMAs had more than 40 million social interactions, ranking as the most social telecast anywhere so far in 2022.  More than the Super Bowl.  And the Oscars.

And no one got slapped.

It’s especially significant to note that the nugget-sized consumption of VMA video and the engagement of those who kept up with the night’s proceedings is an evolution of how MTV gained its initial popularity–shorter-form music performances that the concert shows that dominated late-night broadcast TV in that era.  And a sign that the MTV brand is still relevant enought to matter, even if the network itself is less so itself.  The fact that these viewers watched actively is a strong selling point for advertisers and sponsors

Indeed, as has been the case with many other Paramount Global event broadcasts, no less than 13 different linear networks, ranging from the CW to BET Her, that are currently in their arsenal aired the awards live and simultaneously.  Many of them got miniscule audiences, although more than their usual programming would otherwise get.   That’s similar to how news events like the State of the Union air, which is why it’s always important to bear in mind that if you make something available in more different places, it’s that much more likely to be viewed.

But as long as Bob Bakish is keeping the lights on on many of those otherwise outdated networks, in this day and age if that’s what it takes to turn a minus into a plus, so be it.   As his media empire pivots more toward the Paramount nomenclature, reducing equally iconic brands like CBS and Nickelodeon to inclusionary status, even finding one night where millions of people still want their MTV–with musical performances–is a sign that the network isn’t quite yet in–hmmm–dire straits?

Until next time…





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