April 6th, 2012
Is MTV the new Myspace?
Surprise–MTV wants to get back into the music business. The network is launching Artists.MTV.com, a service allowing musicians to claim pages and customize them with photos, videos and news, as well as a place to sell tickets and merchandise. This will address a flaw MTV perceives in the modern music fan’s online experience:
“Artist pages exist as islands on the Internet,” says MTV executive Van Toffler. “Maybe you learn about an artist on Pandora, then you see a video on YouTube or read about them on Wikipedia, then maybe you buy the song on iTunes. It’s a disparate experience.”
He’s right, but the network faces an uphill battle if they hope to regain some of their former glory. Here’s what’s changed since MTV’s heyday:
1) MTV changed. The MTV brand has evolved drastically since the days of Yo! MTV Raps and TRL—and not for the better, many say. The channel, which used to be the arbiter of cool, now features characters who are distinctively more . . . downmarket. What once was synonymous with rock stars is now home to Snooki and the Shake Weight. MTV certainly wasn’t the only channel to pursue the cheap, easy money of reality TV, but once a brand’s integrity has been neglected, it’s virtually impossible to earn that credibility back. An entire generation of music fans has grown up with an MTV that isn’t about music. That’s going to be hard to undo.
2) Musicians changed. In the ’80s and ’90s, MTV was critical to artists’ success because it provided exposure to a massive audience in a way no other channel could, except possibly Rolling Stone. That era is over. Bands no longer need worry about catching the ear of professional producers and editors.
“Goodbye, big-money bollocks and big-city trappings,” wrote Brandon Soderberg in Spin. “Hello, tireless Internet hustlers taking their futures into their own hands.”
It sounds silly, but being a proficient community manager is as much a necessity for the modern musician as being able to count in 4/4. Using Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Twitter and Tumblr, acts like Nicki Minaj and OFWGKTA built massive followings without media dollars. These are the role models for aspiring acts everywhere, and it will be difficult to convince them they need MTV. It used to be that bands had to sell themselves to MTV, but now the tables have turned—it’s MTV’s turn to sell itself as relevant.
Furthermore, the biggest music videos these days debut on VEVO, the preroll-ad-supported video service which pays artists based on viewership. How can MTV compete with that?
3) Audiences changed. Pandora eclipsed MTV’s search traffic way back in 2010, and since then music fans have developed even more new behaviors for learning about bands. While many listeners are vocal about their dislike of the ads on VEVO, their millions of collective views show they are willing to tolerate it, along with other ad-supported channels like Hype Machine, Pitchfork, and Myspace.
Speaking of Myspace, big changes are underway for that social network as well. The platform is partnering with brands to create original video content, beginning with Let’s Big Happy, a comedy series about indie bands co-produced by Taco Bell. Here’s the trailer:
Music is in Myspace’s DNA, but that may not be enough to differentiate it from the plethora of other online video networks. ”If you look at Myspace and you look at the roster of [performers] who used it as a platform, Myspace really more than anything is a platform for discovery,” says Roger Mincheff, president of Myspace Entertainment. He’s right, but the same thing can be said about YouTube, Hulu, Funny Or Die, and even Netflix. It also seems incongruous to categorize Myspace as a discovery platform when they are creating new, exclusive content. Why not just “discover” existing content and aggregate it in a unique and compelling way?
Furthermore, this will be Myspace’s third iteration, having gone from social network to music hub to content distributor. This lack of focus can be dangerous, because with each new identity it becomes harder for audiences to figure out what the brand has become.
And so we find ourselves observing the strange situation in which MTV is trying to be the next Myspace while Myspace is trying to be like MTV. Each brand has roots in very different parts of the entertainment spectrum, but now they are converging in the middle. Which one will have the authenticity and digital acumen to succeed?
Only time will tell if these strategies succeed or if the MTV/Myspace story becomes yet another cautionary tale of too little, too late. Reinvention is essential, but no one said it would be easy.