August 1, 1981 was a day that changed America’s youth. It was 30 years ago that MTV (Music Television) had its first telecast featuring the first ever video, The Buggles’ Video Killed the Radio Star. (You may recall one of my first weekly emails was about the demise of Blockbuster and the title was “Change Killed the Video Store” – a take-off of the aforementioned song.) There I was, 12 years of age, watching a cartoon drawing of a man on the moon with a flag showing the MTV logo with rapid changes in color and music blaring in the background. Their slogan was “You’ll never look at music the same way again.” -- and they were right.
Any moment my television was on it was set to MTV. The channel had a rotation of five friendly VJs (video jockeys) introducing videos and sharing snippets about the lives of rock stars. Videos quickly became the way “rock stars were made,” and once in the rotation you would see the same videos again and again (Billy Idol anyone?). Of course, over time, understanding their adolescent audience, the videos and shows became edgier (Beavis & Butthead), introduced “video vixens” (scantily clad attractive women) and “big hair bands” became all the rage (well, for a short period of time – except they all seem to be back on tour this summer and coming to Portland). And, for many, Kurt Loder was that generation’s version of Walter Cronkite. (Any of this ring a bell?)
MTV started trends and created incredible memories for the youth of the day. How many girls wanted to look like Pat Benatar or Madonna? What person did not try at least once to make their hair look like the lead singer of the band Flock of Seagulls? We all counted down the days until Michael Jackson’s Thriller video aired (most felt it was scary and weird – perhaps no different than the artist himself). And, how about when the rock band KISS “unmasked” and basically the entire viewing audience was yelling at their television set for them to put their make-up back on. Those are just some of my highlights – but the key point is they are remembered to this day by that generation.
We all have memories of “growing up.” We remember what we played, who we played with, and the latest, greatest fads of the day. And we all enjoy sharing those stories with our friends and our children. Look, my two children have been “traumatized” by me making them watch the DVD series of 1970s Saturday morning children shows like the original Land of the Lost, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters (my children named our dog Sigmund based on the character), and the Super Friends (can you name all 11 members of the Justice League and all 13 members of the Legion of Doom – my children can – oy!). But they understand what my childhood interests were, just as I learned about my parent’s. How many times have we all started a sentence with “Back in the day….”?
We are all influenced by the media – the sights and sounds around us. And today, more than ever. In the past, there were fewer “inputs.” Now, we are inundated with hundreds of television channels, the internet, social media, smart phones, etc.
MTV continues to evolve to meet this new reality and to attract new audiences. Their logo no longer says “Music Television.” Videos are only shown from 3 a.m. to 8 a.m. The channel focuses on reality shows (lucky for us they developed Jersey Shore). MTV aims to meet the interests of its viewers wherever they live; in fact, there are now 64 different MTV channels around the world. The leadership at MTV understands that times change, interests change, and people change. Therefore, how do you maintain relevance when your core demographic constantly “ages out” and new audiences “age in?”
As author Seth Godin says, “most of the time we are dealing with a moment, a step in a trend. We fail when we fall in love and believe there is no next step.” We must learn from and cherish our history…caution ourselves about the romanticism of nostalgia…and recognize that today’s reality is ever-changing.
You know what…I have not watched MTV in over 20 years. Why? Because I want my (old) MTV! Yet I recognize and understand that this is not 1981 and what I loved then may not be what is of interest or important to the audience of today. Think about that as our Jewish community looks toward its future.