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MTV Europe at 25

MTV Europe launched on August 1st 1987 with Sting warbling 'I want my MTV' on the Dire Straits' Money for Nothing track. A rough cut video, showing the band playing live, had been previously presented to MTV in the States and was rejected as the band's image didn't fit the channel. After adding animation, and colourizing the band members on stage, the video was accepted. By the time MTV's European counterpart went on air, the channel had become so powerful that it could dictate to the record companies and to the artists. And MTV Europe was soon to emulate the mother companies success. It was a powerhouse in the music business, yet it did not produce one single video. MTV was the pipe. It relayed videos to our homes. It did however produce the packaging – VJ links, idents, and news segments. MTV's core was not its own productions but music videos financed by record companies. And this made it a money making machine.


When MTV launched in the States in 1981 it revolutionised how we received music. Up until that point videos could be seen only very occasionally on national channels. 24 hour music was limited to radio. MTV's impact was immediate and immense. For many it became a replacement to radio. Overnight image became as important as music. And videos always looked better on MTV. This was the key to the success, and later demise, of the channel. Less than 4 minutes was needed to re-enforce an aspect of an artist's personality. Madonna, Michael Jackson and U2 became first class proponents of this new art form. Having a video playlisted on MTV meant chart success. Television and film responded to this new medium. Michael Mann described Miami Vice as an MTV cop show.


Soon the distinction between film and pop video blurred. Steve Barron, Godley and Creme, Wayne Isham, Mary Lambert, and Julien Temple made their names as video directors. And famous film directors started to make videos - Brian de Palma, David Mallet, Russell Malcahy, and John Landis. With Jackson's 'Thriller', Landis created a 14 minute video milestone. In 1984, I was dancing in a London nightclub when the DJ stopped the music to show the video in its entirety. We were all mesmerised. It was breathtaking. Little did I realise at the time how Music Television would also change my life.


After 1987, once MTV Europe launched, fast editing, music underlay, and emphasis of style over content became a fixture of European mainstream channels. Presenters on terrestrial channels around Europe were directly influenced by the anarchic style of Ray Cokes. Beavis and Butthead became a forerunner to The Simpsons. The Real World - a pre-cursor to Big Brother, and this was a new way of getting famous – the reality show.


MTV News became the template for Entertainment News shows around the world. And its greatest impact had not even been understood at that point. MTV pioneered a new way of communicating. Slogans, information in small bite-size fragments, alongside interactivity – all of which have today influenced the facebook and twitter generation. By the mid-nineties the influence of MTV was at its peak. I personally had interviewed almost every pop star, and with the Free Your Mind campaign which symbolised thinking in the 90s, I had even discussed politics on MTV with world and religious leaders including Michael Gorbachev and the Dalai Lama. When I left in 1994 the era of the big budget video was at its height. Video directors received phenomenal amounts to produce some of the most impactful videos of our time. Chris Cunningham, Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze dominated with, what were no longer just promos, but stand alone works of art. And they still looked better on MTV.


But in the years up to that time, MTV had started to make mistakes that would affect the long term development of the channel. At MTV News, we had already been asked in 1992 to interview only artists who were either in the charts or on the play-list, which itself became dominated by the charts. MTV slowly moved from leader to follower. Instead of sticking to its pan-European approach, MTV decided to launch national channels, looking inwards on their own market – the same time as a new tube, the internet, provided exactly the opposite. MTV effectively went against the flow of the greatest technological development of our lifetime. Internet also allowed the widespread copying of music, record company profits slumped and video budgets decreased. A good video became a rarity. And even though videos might have looked better on MTV, if they were of lower quality, and played alongside those irritating ring tone adverts, then it was clear - the channel's quality had also diminished. Once youtube launched, MTV's music video future was sealed. MTV's options to change were limited, moving away from its music core into youth programming, an area where it had a proven track record.


Today there can be no comparison to the innovative broadcaster where I had worked, It is simply a completely different channel playing reality shows back to back. Internet music sites, although in their infancy, are taking over the mantel that MTV discarded. They provide the packaging but are still linear and dependent on the quality of the music videos. And this is the key. It is not the packaging that we need to explore to reinvent Music Television. It is the development of the pop video itself. One possible future might lie in apps, where the user could, through a simple process, have the opportunity to connect closer to the audio and visual content that is conveyed in the video. But until a development takes place which redefines the pop video and has a similar effect on a new generation that 'Thriller' had on me and my contemporaries, there will´never be another golden age of Music Television, where videos always looked better.


Happy Birthday MTV!