Commitment Is The Key: MTV Europe Pledges To Support Acts -- If Labels Do The Same

When MTV Europe's first clunky analog signal went up Aug. 1, 1987, only 1 million homes in Europe could see MTV, and viewers in all countries received the same MTV -- the same VJs, artists, programs a

The following is adapted from a speech delivered by Brent Hansen, president/CEO of MTV Networks Europe, at the Popkomm trade show Sept. 29 in Berlin.

When MTV Europe's first clunky analog signal went up Aug. 1, 1987, only 1 million homes in Europe could see MTV, and viewers in all countries received the same MTV -- the same VJs, artists, programs and adverts, regardless of cultural or language boundaries.

MTV is now about a multitude of channels and brands that reach out and touch Europe's youth on a number of levels.

MTV is not "just" music television anymore; while the "M" -- music -- of MTV will always remain emphatically at the heart of what we do, television is only one of the strings to our digital bow.

As our network in Europe has grown and become profitable, we have invested, spending a huge amount on new programming, channels and technologies to make MTV an environment that is so much more than generic back-to-back videos.

The roots of this change lie back in 1996, when MTV started using digital compression to vary elements of our programming output.

The pan-European model so relevant in 1987 had its limitations; music [is] released at different cycles in different markets. We soon realized that it wouldn't work, so we literally broke up the network through advances in digital-compression technology.

Our portfolio now contains more than 45 channels, including those targeting specific demographics and music genres, such as R&B and dance music.

So what is the key to our success today -- and our continuing success in the future? Creativity is the key; it's what makes the difference. Music is the heart of MTV, but creativity is the soul.

Now I know there are those among [the industry] who may have been told that promotion on MTV has little value. Well, I want to show how wrong [they] are by showing the influence that MTV had on the success of [Finnish rock act] the Rasmus.

I put a goal upon my most senior talent and music managers: to leverage our network to help break talent across European borders.

MTV Nordic got behind the Rasmus back in '98 with their first video, "Liquid," and sang their praises to their colleagues on MTV Nordic's sister channels. When the Rasmus were signed internationally to Motormusic, part of Universal Music Germany, MTV Central saw "In the Shadows," loved it and started playing the clip. It became a huge hit in Germany.

MTV Networks Europe then decided to put its full, network-wide weight behind "In the Shadows."

And then there are the Beatsteaks, the fantastic German group that we have recently made a pan-European network priority. We truly believe in the Beatsteaks, and we are also putting our full weight behind them to support them toward international success.

The important point here is: No one else but our network of branded music channels can offer this kind of support to the music industry. MTV not only can get an artist into 120 million households in Europe, but it can also do it in a targeted way, spinning the changes according to the medium and the audience.

Of course, not every act gets the level of support we are giving the Rasmus or the Beatsteaks. So what was behind our decision to support them in such a way?

It's two things really: firstly, our absolute belief in their cultural, their creative value; and secondly, our genuine insight into the different groups and subcultures that make up our audiences -- something that is really important to MTV and to me personally.

What worries me is that we're just not seeing enough acts of the caliber of the Rasmus, and the newer acts aren't getting enough time and money to allow them to develop and grow as artists.

Often, when wonderful, creative, thrilling artists are signed, they're canned after their first album, just when they've barely begun to realize their talents.

We can't lay the blame at the feet of the A&R guys -- a lot of this is driven by financial challenges. Top management has to rationalize a stock-market-driven agenda, and we all know the hit the industry has taken from digital piracy.

The result? Safety prevails over creativity. Any organization, including ours, has to deal with this issue, but we can't forget that our lifeblood is in finding new artists and nurturing established ones.

Recent mergers in the industry have made the situation even worse. The need for immediate return on investment may satisfy the shareholders, but it threatens to starve the heart out of the labels that have brought us such wonderful music and artists.

I know the money men would like to believe that creativity comes cheaply and easily -- overnight. But the reality is sustained creativity usually -- but not always -- needs three things: talent, time, money.

And what is sustaining the industry instead? One-album wonders? Manufactured bands? TV reality show contestants? How many "Pop Idols" do we really need? Average music won't sustain the long-term health of the music industry.

There's still too much focus on formula top 20 acts. If achieving top 20 status were a test of greatness, then some of the biggest icons of our time would have been stacking grocery carts.

You know and I know that creativity comes at a price. We're prepared to be loyal to your artists if [labels] are loyal to them too, but it is harder for us to be loyal if your artist gets pulled after one album.

We want to see commitment, and, in turn, we want to show you commitment by sticking with your artist: giving them the MTV stamp of approval, supporting them from breaking act to superstar. If we know that loyalty is there -- for the long run -- then we can justify investing in ways of really showcasing your artists.

It's a price worth us all paying. What we're all making -- what we're contributing to -- is the music legacy of our culture, of our time.

Let's start taking risks and making commitments so that we can show our audiences that there is more to our industry than "Pop Idol." We're not in it for a free ride. Let's be loyal to those credible artists and work together to create tomorrow's superstars.


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