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Parent organisation Viacom
Ownership type Public, NASDAQ:VIA
Founded 1981 (Viacom ownership 1985), by Robert W. Pittman
Headquarters 1515 Broadway
New York City , New York 10036
United States of America
Industry Media
Product/Service Television

MTV (Music TeleVision) is a cable television network which was originally devoted to popular music videos, especially mainstream rock music. The network was launched on one minute past midnight 1 August 1981, in New York City, as an operation of Warner-Amex Satellite Entertainment Company, a joint venture of Warner Communications and American Express known as WASEC. The network began with a few thousands of subscribers to 2.1 million viewers by the end of the year. 'I Want My MTV' ad campaign followed on 1 March 1982, featuring Stevie Nicks, Mick Jagger, Adam Ant, Pat Benatar, the Police and David Bowie. The MTV logo also debuts, and its promotional clip of astronauts planting a MTV flag on the moon became iconic with the brand. By 1983, it had become available in most cities of the United States. MTV soon became a leading promoter of new popular music and musicians, showing music videos, promoting select rock concerts, and presenting news and documentaries about bands and performers.

On 14 September 1984, the network produced its first MTV Video Music Awards (VMA) show, hosted by Bette Midler and Dan Akroyd. MTV later became an outlet for a variety of different material aimed at adolescents and young adults. The network expanded to include original programming such as the crudely animated Beavis and Butthead and the 'reality' series Real World, plus separate international networks; MTV Europe, MTV Latin America, and MTV Russia. When MTV's programming changed to include more hip-hop and rap music, MTV Networks launched a second network, Video Hits 1 (VH1), on 1 January 1985. VH1 featured more popular music than MTV. Viacom took over ownership of MTV in the same year. MTV Networks also owns Nickelodeon, a cable channel airing children's and family programming. MTV is available worldwide, with some shared programmes within regionalized formats. By the second half of the 1990s, MTV content consisted primarily of non-music programming.


MTV's origins can be delineated back to 1977, when Warner Amex Cable (a joint venture between Warner Communications and American Express) established the first two-way interactive cable TV system, QUBE, in Columbus, Ohio. The QUBE network offered dedicated channels, including a children's entertainment channel called 'Pinwheel' which would later evolve into Nickelodeon. One of these QUBE channels was Sight On Sound, a music channel that featured music oriented TV programmes interspersed with concert footage; and with the channel's interactive service, subscribers could vote for their favourite artists and songs.

The popularity of the channel on the QUBE system prompted Warner Amex to develop the channel nationally to other cable services. Aptly, the first music video shown on MTV was 'Video Killed the Radio Star' by The Buggles (with similar tongue-in-cheek humour, the first video shown on MTV Europe was 'Money for Nothing', by Dire Straits, which starts with the line 'I want my MTV'). The early format presentation of the network was modelled after American Top 40 radio. Fresh-faced young men and women were hired to host the show's programming, and to introduce videos that were being played. The term 'VJ' (video jockey) was coined, a play on the term 'DJ' (disc jockey). The first MTV VJs were Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, Alan Hunter, J.J. Jackson and Martha Quinn, with some VJs eventually became celebrities in their own right. Several noted film directors also got their start creating music videos aimed for the network.

In 1984, Warner and Amex attempted to take some cash out of their WASEC investment. The companies divested WASEC and it was renamed MTV Networks Inc. The parent companies registered for a stock IPO, which eventually went public at US$15.00 per share. In 1985, MTV Networks Inc. was acquired by media conglomerate Viacom Inc., and was renamed MTV Networks becoming a wholly-owned subsidiary, and still a division of Viacom today.


Critics have claimed that rather than breaking in new acts, MTV merely allows existing Top 40 bands to sell well because they get a lot of exposure on MTV, instead of MTV selecting the best new bands to promote. Another criticism is that MTV has too much influence in the music industry. Because of its visibility as a promotional tool for the recording industry, MTV has been deemed as overly commercial, and accused of denigrating the importance of music in the music industry, replacing it with a disposable visual aesthetic, often detached from the meaning of the song itself. As early as 1985, some musicians were criticizing MTV for the rising costs of promotional budgets (deducted from the artists payments), as record companies recognized the need to gain publicity, by competing for exposure on the network with increasingly elaborate and expensive videos.

In its early years, MTV were criticized by black musicians as 'racist', since the acts it featured were claimed to be exclusively white (contrary to this allegation MTV did play clips from Joan Armatrading, Prince, Eddy Grant, Tina Turner, and Donna Summer since its launch). In March 1983, anxious that MTV might not play Michael Jackson's new video 'Billie Jean', Jackson and CBS Records president Walter Yetnikoff informed the cable channel, they would be required to play Jackson's video, or CBS would not allow it to play any of their signed white artists (most notably Ozzy Osbourne and Billy Joel), and would publicly denounce MTV as racists. Shortly thereafter, the network began heavily featuring videos from Jackson's album Thriller, in particular the song 'Billie Jean', which received saturation rotation and boosted Jackson's flagging sales career. Subsequently MTV would delve heavily into black musical acts, including developing several rap music-themed programmes, almost to the exclusion of other forms of music.

MTV has recently been under fire as it no longer airs any music videos at all, focusing primarily on MTV produced reality shows such as The Osbournes. Conversely however, it has delegated music videos to its genre channels in a bid to differentiate itself from the competition of other music video-oriented channels. MTV has also been criticized for over-use of on-screen graphics, such as logos, programme promotion and countdown timers.

Cultural legacy

Historian Michael Sells has argued that without MTV, hip hop would have remained an underground phenomenon for many years and the career of Madonna would never have gone far.[1]


  1. Sells, Michael (2013). “MTV fails”, Imagine That - Music: The History of Music Rewritten. Duxford: Ikon Books, 121. ISBN 9781848315693.