Video killed the radio star—at least for a while. 

Music Television (MTV) is a familiar television channel today, but at its inception it was a revolutionary concept. The unusual idea of watching the music spurred the popularity of Music Television in its early days, and the network has only continued to make unexpected turns ever since. 

All in The Name

It would be really difficult to mistake the original aim of MTV with a name like Music Television: the television network simply wanted to bring around the clock music programming to every other television screen in the country. 

Despite being somewhat slow to achieve stardom after its 1981 debut, MTV found its stride before long, proving with hits like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” just how influential a video could be in a song’s (and an artist’s) success. 

Less than 10 years after the network’s launch, it moved into a new space: reality programming. Shows like Behind The Music, Cribs, The Real World, and The Hills helped shape this still-thriving section of the market, a space for which MTV is largely to thank (and still occupies), making it a constant favorite in the hearts of the young adults.  

A Changing Market

At the time of its debut, MTV was a wholly novel idea. Still, only VH1 (an MTV sister station) has adopted the same content concept of playing music. However, the other leg of MTV programming has become a truly widespread phenomenon. The fact is that now, Reality TV is on almost every network today. 

For many years, MTV’s largest competitors were other (really older and already established) networks, like Fox. However, the last 5 years have seen a major rise in the popularity of video playing services in television industry, making companies such as Netflix and Hulu bigger threats to the livelihood of MTV.

A Lasting Lineup

Over the years, MTV has had a number of famous ad campaigns, most notably it’s tag “I want my MTV.” The most material way that this brand has stayed visible, though, is simply through its continuously evolving programming.

Not only has MTV produced stunning and most loved hits like Teen Mom, it has found ways to milk those hits for literal decades following their success with reboots and reunions. Catfish and Jersey Shore are some other examples of two other long-standing favorites that have embedded themselves as the cultural icons among the heart of MTV’s target audience. 

Dark Sides of Reality

Being a relatively new cultural institution, MTV had no idea what they were walking into when they conceived reality TV. As such, they had no idea the off-screen drama with which they’d have to contend. From allegations of faking situations in their shows, to being accused of ruining ordinary people’s lives by putting them on display, MTV has faced a fair amount of backlash from the reality TV exploits. 

Vocal as their dissidents may be, ratings are what count in the world of television, and MTV isn’t hurting from any of these opinions. 

A Name Everyone Knows

As MTV has refocused their programming to unscripted, reality TV content in recent years, they’ve seen a resurgence in popularity. The final quarter of 2018 saw the sixth consecutive one in which MTV’s ratings grew for the 18-49 market.

Whether this success is because of nostalgia or simply MTV’s unparalleled ability to create engaging television, there’s no question that this network knows how to transform itself to fit the culture of the moment.