FEATURE: Bigger Picture: Why Now Is the Time for a Music Television Revival



Bigger Picture


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Why Now Is the Time for a Music Television Revival


WHEN I was writing about…


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the thirty-eighth anniversary of MTV last month, it allowed me the chance to revisit a station/brand that had some hard times and, yes, there were problems. Not only was MTV’s regency fairly short-lived, but it took a while to get off the ground. How broad was it, and can one overlook its exclusion of black artists in the early days? Depending on how you see MTV in the history of music television, one cannot argue against the fact (the station) provided these big music videos and, for many of us, it was essential viewing. When MTV launched in the 1980s, it was a curious concept and music television has evolved since then. I have written about the lack of music T.V. shows and stations on now and, after every occasion, I am no closer to finding an answer. Once was the day when we had CD:UK and Freshly Squeezed. We had Pop World from 2001 and 2007; The Tube ran from 1982 and 1987 and, if you do your research, you can uncover so many different music T.V. shows that catered to those hungry for the latest news, big performances and features. Even though it is off the air at the moment, Later… with Jools Holland seems to be the only real music T.V. show on now. Think about where artists perform when they need to promote music. Laughably, cooking shows like Sunday Brunch are doubling up as ersatz music platforms.  

I think the industry is as packed, varied and hungry as ever and, because of that, are we saying the only way to discover new acts is on the Internet or at gigs? Granted, the advent and growth of social media and streaming means we do not need to rely on music T.V. to discover artists. We have great radio stations so, in this digital age, is the idea of a music T.V. show old-fashioned and obsolete?! I think that is on the lips of every T.V. executive and broadcaster when they are asked about the lack of music T.V. shows. It would be quite expensive to mount a regular series and, considering the calibre of artists one might need to attract, is it worth the trouble? I have read feedback from artists – when I post similar articles – that asks why, in 2019, there are virtually no music T.V. shows. At certain points in history, we have seen three or four (or more) shows run that offers something slightly different. Now, as the Internet takes over, more and more people are sourcing music on their phones/laptops. The convenience of that is wonderful but there is more to music than new releases and the latest news. So many acts, established and new, rely on the rigours of live performance; playing so many venues in order to get noticed and appreciated. T.V. shows like Later… with Jools Holland allow people to discover artists they might not have been familiar with.


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For me, I love the show because it retains the charm and simplicity of older brands like The Old Grey Whistle Test but has a very modern feel. I use the Internet a lot to get my music fix but feel that, when it comes to engaging my attention, T.V. is best. I like to relax and watch T.V. and I think that would be a perfect opportunity to bask in some musical goodness. In terms of budget, maybe the BBC and ITV would not be able to finance a properly big show but, with the likes of Netflix broadening and expanding, there is that chance to bring people in. In this feature from 2008, MTV was put under the microscope. Ratings were declining and the station had to respond:

In the 1990s, the channel evolved. It proved to be a powerful platform for a new breed of video auteurs, who exploited the burgeoning acceptance of the music video as an artform. The likes of Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry and Hype Williams cut their teeth on pop videos before graduating to Hollywood; many of them won recognition at that other famous cash cow for the company: the high profile MTV Video Music Awards, which again expanded into non-music territory with a raft of spin-offs. The awards continued to hog headlines this week, when at the MTV Movie Awards in Los Angeles two presenters (the actors Seth Rogen and James Franco) pretended to smoke marijuana before giving a gong.

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MTV claims that, despite the overall fall in viewers, over the past year it has gone some way to reversing its decline in viewing figures, and that while MTV Flux was justifiably canned, interactive elements have been incorporated into all its channels. MTV UK's director of television, Heather Jones, says: "We are still very much part of the cutting edge. We have a host of live music events which we are behind this summer, and are bringing the Europe Music Awards to Liverpool. And I would say that online, our video streams are up”’.

Eleven years later, the fortunes of MTV are rock-bottom and the music T.V. landscape is barren. Against stiff competition, there is that concern regarding financial loss and potential ratings. One of the problems with the Internet is the fact many of us get caught in a loop and fall into routine. Even if you are hunting down the best new tunes, there is a limit and, as I said, many of us will listen to the same tracks. Maybe a show like Jools Holland’s is a bit restrictive in the sense it is live performance and interviews. Its popularity and longevity suggest there is a healthy appetite for that format but, as we have so much information and options at our fingertips, a new music T.V. show needs to be more ambitious. I shall try and not repeat myself but, with many people bemoaning the decline or music T.V. and artists in need of somewhere to get their music heard (beyond cooking shows!), we need to cover a lot of bases.

I can understand the reticence of stations when they are quizzed about music television. Budget and potential popularity and important considerations and there is limit room on the schedules. I think it would be impossible to revive the glory days of music T.V. but there is a demand that is going unsatisfied. Live performances would not need to be reserved for big acts and those we are all familiar with. A blend of the bigger and underground would provide gravitas and provide invaluable exposure for artists who can prove their live chops – and give viewers a chance to discover something fresh. I think a weekly show would be best because a once-monthly show seems a little slight. You could have a few performances that cover different genres and artists – like a new Alternative band on the same bill as Madonna – and it would be good blending the classic with contemporary. I have not even mentioned the best-known and popular music T.V. show in this country: Top of the Pops. So many I know want that to be revived but I think one could have the best of that show in a new format. The variation of acts and the studio audience element; mix that with MTV’s music video aspect and introduce a series of new artists each week. There is music news to consider and endless scope for features. The brilliant classic album series have died out and I used to love watching them. You can have documentary segments that cover a range of subjects – from Hip-Hop sampling to Pop’s changing sound – and you would have a balance of the entertaining and educational. 

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It is a bit sad the T.V. landscape has changed so much through the years. I don’t like the idea of music being completely funnelled into the Internet and there is a lot to be said of a show that unites family and friend and ticks all the boxes. Even if it was an hourly show every week, so much could be crammed in. One can still get new music and news from the Internet but a T.V. show would help broaden tastes and give us artists/information we might not have otherwise unearthed. I do think a music T.V. show that covers the spectrum but has its own personality would prove popular. There are definite benefits to streaming and radio but T.V. shows can produce original content and featured you will not get anywhere else. Giving artists a small screen stage to perform on means they can reach a wider audience and allows those who cannot get to gigs a chance to see these acts. The budget would not necessarily be huge…and I think, with T.V. and online promotion, a healthy audience could be built pretty quickly. I can emphasise with stations and bosses who must think about the time, trouble and money needed to create these shows; the loss and issues faced if they prove unpopular or underwhelming. It would be a blow, but I think we need a music T.V. revival. It doesn’t need to be loads of shows but, if you can get one excellent format off the ground, other shows will follow.

It means we could make music – beyond gigs – more communitive and get us away from laptops and phones (I know the T.V. has a screen, but music T.V. shows could be watched and allow us to converse). The artists who could benefit from exposure would be immense and bringing back features like classic album series would introduce iconic albums to a new generation. T.V., as I said, gives this big platform to music; one that is powerful and can reach around the world. With some excellent features and a memorable format, a T.V. show could happily thrive alongside the current options – such as the Internet and radio. Artists no longer have the option to perform on T.V. and music is becoming less sociable and Internet-based. If a network like Netflix did a bit of research and spent some time concocting a fantastic concept, I think it could kick-start a new wave of music T.V. I do genuinely miss music T.V. and the pleasure of having all your needs and tastes catered for in a single show. Those days are gone and, in a vast digital jungle, I think a great music T.V. show would provide a shaft of life and breath of fresh air. Stations are reluctant to take gambles and do not understand the importance of music T.V. I do not abide by the notion the Internet has usurped music T.V. entirely: there is a space for both and, with more musicians on the scene than ever, a real desire from fans and artists themselves. I do think money and ratings cloud opinions and holds back conversation. It is important that a new show succeeds and is worth investment but, at the same time, networks need to consider the benefits (of a show) to music fans, labels and artists. Many stations are concentrating on a narrow focus and concern whereas they need to look at…            

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THE bigger picture.