A Brief History Of MTV, Vevo, YouTube and the Online Music Video

For the last two decades of the 20th century, the music industry rotated along the axis of MTV. The company represented a direct line into the hearts and minds of music consumers around the world, and the their main form of expression was music video. When MTV launched in August 1981 and blasted “Video Killed The Radio Star” through North American households, it represented the ambitions of a company who wanted to significantly influence popular culture. It succeeded in a big way, earning $7 million in advertising revenue in the first 18 months, and remained a critical part of the music industry by leveraging music videos to help flesh out the image of acts as diverse as Michael Jackson and Green Day, Guns n’ Roses and 2Pac. What a difference from today, where the company is more focused on reality television than music videos, and is now in a battle with Vevo to serve the music video watching populace on the web. Read more about how things changed and the current world of music videos after the jump.

It was the digital revolution in the late 90s that really put the pressure on the entire music industry as it was. Music videos, which primarily served as an advertisement for record sales, feared losing their pillars of support as the big labels worried about declining CD sales as a result of (among other things) the availability of music online, for free. As we can see in the image below, it was after the time of MP3.com and right around Napster that physical media sales (CD sales) began to dwindle.


Image courtesy of Robert A. Gehring

This led MTV to continue their expansion into other areas like television, and as they made the transition, actual music videos starting getting less time on the air. These music videos were less lucrative to them than they were, and shows like “The Real World”, which initially represented a unique portrait of real life, had devolved into “immature and irresponsible behavior” that generated great ratings.

This led to what can only be called the dark years of music video. Between 2000 and 2005, there really wasn’t a single place to tune in and see a whole lot of music videos. MTV was inundated with television shows and video on the web still wasn’t accessible by the mainstream. Most of your music video needs were through DVDs and Torrent packages of “The Top 50 Music Videos Of All Time”, which alluded to the music video as something of a lost art.

YouTube-Money[1] Enter YouTube in 2005.   The user-uploaded video service jumped on the scene and with it came mountains and mountains of content, and included in that was pretty much every music video ever made. People were consuming these videos en masse, with no revenue being shared to the artist or MTV who had originally broadcast it (Canada’s MuchMusic was another oft-ripped station).

For five years, YouTube and music industry companies like MTV struggled to understand how their content was being displayed for free on YouTube, and attempted to implement measures to ban the content. Any consumer could have told you that was a losing fight, as it was 10 companies vs. 150 million viewers a month watching 2 Billion video views daily, and the millions of people uploading the videos would be hard to censor. So eventually, YouTube realized that they may have a way to deliver some revenue to the music video creators, and YouTube (owned by Google) developed an algorithm to detect copyright material and then to display ads and pay the original creator. This has resulted in the total number of displayed YouTube Ads going up 50% in the last year and their revenues soaring to $450 million, while music video creators earn revenue too.

mtvlogo[1] So where does that leave MTV? Well, the MTV online video site and it’s main competitor, Vevo, realized a few years ago that it was in their best interest to start focusing on showing music videos online, and have developed their properties and websites to be as smooth as possible. MTV.com gets around 53 million unique visitors a month and Vevo has around 50 million. These are pretty huge numbers, and they’ve been growing steadily, which hints at a resurgence of the power of the music video.

We’ll be watching to see how these industries translate into real businesses, so stay tuned to Social Times. Also, check out some other articles about MTV and social media:

How MTV Used “Social Interview” on Facebook To Successfully Advertise RJ Berger Show

MTV Acquires Social Gaming Team; Will We See a JerseyshoreVille?