MTV (Music Television) is an American cable television network based in New York City. Launched on August 1, 1981, the original purpose of the channel was to show music videos, as well as other music news and events. Today, MTV broadcasts a variety of music, pop culture, youth culture, and reality television shows aimed at adolescents and young adults.
Since its premiere, MTV revolutionized the music industry. Slogans such as "I want my MTV" became embedded in public thought, the concept of the VJ (video jockey) was popularized, the idea of a dedicated video-based outlet for music was introduced, and both artists and fans found a central location for music events, news, and promotion. MTV has also been referenced countless times by musicians, other TV channels and shows, films and books.
MTV has spawned a handful of sister channels in the U.S. and dozens of affiliated international channels around the world. MTV's moral influence on young people, including examples of censorship and social activism on the channel, has been the subject of debate for years. MTV's choice to focus on non-music programming has also been contested relentlessly, demonstrating the channel's continued impact on popular culture.
The Launch of MTVEdit
MTV's pre-history began in 1977, when Warner Cable (a division of Warner Communications and an ancestor of WASEC, Warner Satellite Entertainment Company) launched the first two-way interactive cable TV system, Qube, in Columbus, Ohio.
The Qube system offered many specialized channels, including a children's channel called Pinwheel which would later become Nickelodeon. One of these specialized channels was Sight On Sound, a music channel that featured concert footage and music oriented TV programs; with the interactive Qube service, viewers could vote for their favorite songs and artists.
MTV's programming format was created by the visionary media executive, Bob Pittman, who later became president and chief executive officer of MTV Networks Pittman had test driven the music format by producing and hosting a 15 minute show, Album Tracks, on WNBC, New York, in the late 1970s. Pittman's boss, WASEC COO John Lack, had shepherded a TV series called PopClips, created by former Monkee-turned solo artist Michael Nesmith, the latter of whom by the late 1970s was turning his attention to the music video format.
HBO also had a 30 minute program of music videos, called Video Jukebox, that first aired around the time of MTV's launch and would last until late 1986. Also around this time, HBO would occasionally play one or a few music videos between movies.
On August 1, 1981, at 12:01 a.m., MTV: Music Television launched with the words "Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll," spoken by original COO John Lack. Those words were accompanied by the original MTV theme song, a crunching guitar riff written by Jonathan Elias and John Petersen, playing over a montage of the Apollo 11 moon landing. MTV producers used this footage because it was in the public domain.
Appropriately, the first music video shown on MTV was "Video Killed the Radio Star" by The Buggles. The second video shown was Pat Benatar's "You Better Run". Sporadically, the screen would go black when someone at MTV inserted a tape into a VCR.
At launch time, the official subscriber count across America was 3,000,000 (the actual number was 500,000), but the immediate impact would have argued that every young adult's television in the country was tuned to MTV.
In 1984 the network produced its first MTV Video Music Awards show. Seen as a fit of self-indulgence by a fledgling network at the time, the "VMAs" developed into a music-industry showcase marketed as a hip antidote to the Grammy awards. In 1992, the network would add a movie award show with similar success.