Why MTV stopped playing music videos

By Huntress Thompson

Former MTV exec, the impossibly named Peter Hoare, answered this question for conclusively (and fairly obnoxiously).

The gist: Music videos are promotional items. Record labels used to pay for music videos to be made and MTV would screen them as on-air marketing, ie. You’d like the song so you’d buy the record. But since we started stealing music, there’s no point to airing music videos anymore because they don’t result in sales.

Son of the gist, Pt II: No one wants to watch music videos anymore anyway. Our longing for music channels that actually screen music videos is just rooted in nostalgia.

But don’t take our word for it – here’s what he wrote.


“For a good portion of the last decade, I was gainfully employed by MTV Networks. And during my time there, I was repeatedly asked one question ad nauseum by both friends and family. It’s a question I’ve also seen written on the internet, I’ve heard it on the radio and I’ve even watched the notion referenced in TV and on film.

“Why won’t MTV just play music videos!?”

Well, once and for all, allow me to give that question a definitive answer.

MTV won’t play music videos because you won’t watch music videos!

If video did in fact kill the radio star, then the internet came along and killed the video star. It’s absolutely true. Much like how the record industry has all but crumbled, so has the business of the music video. Everyone who blindly makes the claim that MTV should go back to its roots isn’t really thinking — and also knows nothing about the television business.

Allow me to explain.

First off, simply put, you’re asking for something you don’t truly want. Think about it. I mean really think about it. Imagine yourself lying on a couch in front of your TV. You flip onto MTV and catch an Arcade Fire video. You’re stoked! And then, three short minutes later, it’s gone. Next up – a new One Direction video!

Guess who’s most likely gonna change the channel instantaneously? You are, champ.

Humanity’s collective attention span is shrinking by the week. We now consume information on an on-demand basis. Gone are the days of waiting through what we don’t want until we reach what we do. And that, more than anything, is why the televised music video is dead. These days, no one is going to wait through the likes of Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber and Ke$ha hoping to catch something from Foo Fighters. Could you really envision yourself sitting down and watching one uninterrupted hour of popular music videos? It simply ain’t happening. 

Guess what channel does play music videos all day long? mtvU. Guess who watches mtvU? Almost no one! There are commercials for Lady Footlocker that rate significantly higher. 

Everyone romanticizes their youth. And that’s what the “Why won’t MTV play music videos?” question is really all about. It’s the same as fondly remembering your fanny pack, beeper, MySpace Top 8 or an episode of Perfect Strangers. It’s nostalgia — nothing more, nothing less. You’d like these things to re-emerge in theory, and in theory only.

MTV has tried. It genuinely has. And when it did, what it found out is that any rerun of a series like Rob Dyrdek’s Fantasy Factory does far better ratings-wise than a block of music videos. And ratings matter. Television is an advertising-driven industry. So while you may say the network should play music, it makes far more sense, and money, to air shows about condomless, humping hillbillies.

And like I mentioned before, the record industry has all but withered away. When’s the last time you actually shelled out money and purchased a new album? Exactly. Music videos, from the dawn of their existence, were merely promotional material put out by the record labels. But nowadays, labels realize that this is a bad investment. Where’s the return? 

The old formula was as follows: Record label pays for a music video. Teenagers flock to their local record store and pick up the album. A handful of record label execs make an astounding sum of money.

Here’s the new formula: Artist pays for music video out of pocket. Teenagers watch the video on Facebook, then subsequently listen to it for free on Spotify. Most record label execs find a new line of work.

Michael and Janet Jackson’s 1995 video for “Scream” cost a ridiculous $7 million. Yesterday, I checked out the new Pixies video, which looked like it cost the price of a Golden Corrall all-you-can-eat buffet. 

So, in short, why won’t MTV play music videos anymore?

1. Because even if they did, you wouldn’t watch.
2. Because we have the attention span of the smartest squirrel.
3. Because the internet is our new Carson Daly.
4. Because these days, the record industry is about as profitable as a Beverly Hills lemonade stand.

You may disagree with me, which is fine. But I’m absolutely right, which is fact.





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