History & Marketing Strategies of MTV brand

Company Name – MTV
Founder – Tom Freston, Les Garland, Robert Pittman and John Sykes

Formerly known as the Music Television, MTV as its abbreviated form is a popular American channel which is owned by the Viacom Media Networks. Starting its journey in 1981 in 1080i HDTV picture format, this Viacom television channel was a pioneer in introducing VJs or Video Jockeys as guides for music videos with its target demographic as young teenagers and adults.

The CEO of Viacom Robert M. Bakish undertakes all the channels of Viacom including MTV. MTV has its headquarters in One Astor Plaza of Times Square in Manhattan, New York.    


How It All Started 

Since early 1960s, the idea of video-based TV programming were evident but conceptualizing them into reality was not so common as a few top music bands like The Beatles launched their music video of Can’t Buy Me Love in A Hard Day’s Night movie.

Mason Williams had approached CBS for his TV program of Video-Radio featuring Disc Jockeys for playing Avant-Garde but was rejected; nevertheless, he utilized Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour for premiering “Classical Gas”. By 1977, various artists like Bob Whitney and music programs like Top of The Pops and Countdown had made use of music videos. 

Music Video TV came into being in 1974 under the influence of Gary Van Haas who tried to expand US audience to cable network by distributing video records from round U.S and featuring disc jockeys.

QUBE –the cable television network with two way interaction was launched by Warner Cable while Robert Pittman created MTV’s music programming format and made test-drive of it possible by hosting Album Tracks on WNBC-TV for 15 minutes.  



At 12.01 AM of eastern Time on 1st August (Saturday) in 1981, the revolutionary launching of MTV took place where John Lack voiced “Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll” over launch countdown footage of STS-1 of Columbia and Apollo 11 launch. John Petersen and Jonathan Elias composed the quirky rock jingle as MTV’s theme song while it played over the American national flag showing MTV logo changing designs and textures. This was conceptualized by Fred Seibert and Alan Goodman, the producers of MTV. 

Video Killed The Radio Star by The Buggles was the first musical video to be shown on MTV although it was available only in New Jersey. You better Run by Pat Benatar was the second video to be shown on MTV.

For official launch of MTV from the operations facility in New York, Robet Pittman had recruited a dynamic team consisting of John Sykes, Fred Seibert, Tom Freston who were the co-founders, Gail Sparrow, Marshall Cohen, Steve Casey, Julian Goldberg, Robert Morton and so on. The popularity of MTV touched the sky within two months as many record stores sold music to MTV as their local radio stations declined to play those –Bow Wow Wow, The Human League, Men At Work etc are some of them. 


MTV’s marketing strategy and reasons behind its success

-The Video Jockey format was something that made MTV’s journey as music television channel successful as music videos were played 24×7. Initially with the Album-oriented Rock format, MTV hired dynamic faces for video jockeying, of which many became celebrities like Alan Hunter, Martha Quinn, Nina Blackwood etc. 

-In order to keep the channel entertaining, along with music videos, the VJs recorded into-outro voiceover for concerts, promotions and interviews. While in 1980s, there were mostly promotional videos, MTV started showing Rock music variants like heavy metal, hard rock and classic rock bands like Adam Ant, Blondie, The Cars, Culture Club, The Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, Paul McCartney as well as country music like Angel of the Morning

-While promoting upcoming and lesser-known artists, MTV started to show fully choreographed performances of famous personalities like Madonna and Michel Jackson, whose dance moves engaged more and more audience, thereby, increasing the video budgets for MTV.

-Since 1984, the MTV Video Music Awards has been doing the rounds where artists are handed over MTV Moonman statuettes. Besides, from 1986, the Spring Break and various annual breaks have been organized as outdoor shows to engage local people. Summer was mostly utilized for broadcasting the beach-themed programs like SoCal Summer, Shore Thing, Motel California etc. Various live festivals and concerts like Coke Studio, Wanna Be a VJ are also organized annually.  


MTV’s Campaigns 

During 1985, MTV’s initiative of safe sex campaign with tagline of “Its Your Sex Life” became influential as it was launched to address AIDS epidemic especially among the teens because they tend to pay more attention to MTV shows than their parents. In the timeline between 1981 and 1983, MTV had its campaign to break color barrier by showing music videos of black artists like Michael Jackson, Donna Summer, Tina Turner as well as Hip Hop and Rap artists like Beastie Boys, The Fat Boys, Whodini, Run-DMC etc. 

Another sensational campaign of MTV was “Look Different” that won Emmy award for its youth-centric theme to address racism, anti-LGBT mentality, gender discrimination etc.

With innovative digital marketing, social media promotion and on-air programs, this campaign organized various events like #TheTalk featured on multiscreen in 2015 for twelve hour in black and white programming and the White Squad video showing how disgusting the white privilege can be. Look Different Campaign took a new turn with emphasis on gender biasness leading to consequences like street harassment, slut-shamming, rape culture etc. True Life: I’m Genderqueer also addressed the third gender. 

The provocative and sharp-on-edge advertisement campaign of “Invisible Ads” on digital media, on-ground like bars in New York had resemblance with advertising regarding collegiate, fashion, hotline and other consumer products and showed how sexual assault still remains an ignored crime.

While “Gender Bent” in animated style promoted gender norms in society, on 12th April in 2016, the 79% Work Clock campaign addressed pay gap due to gender discrimination. On International Women’s Day, MTV started the #SoundOn campaign online featuring Emma Watson, Rita Ora, P!nk etc to amplify women’s voice within Viacom’s talent network. 



With new subsidiary channels like Club MTV being launched, MTV is now a youth channel showing different shows directed to high school teenagers, college students and adults. Apart from music videos, MTV now offers different comedy and talk shows, original reality or non-scripted shows, drama and other programs simultaneously.

While being a youth-centric channel, MTV had to brave lots of controversies regarding its list of shows in different countries like Ireland, UK, India etc, its campaigns and shows centered on social causes and awareness has made it successful in relating to target audience. 

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