Music video rebound: Technology, creativity keep fans tuning in
MTV may be better known now for reality shows, but the music video industry it spawned 30 years ago is in some ways more vibrant than ever â€” and still providing the marketing kick artists need to sell music.
Thatâ€™s in part because television has become just one avenue for reaching viewers. The ability of consumers to access videos at their own convenience has caused a surge of video-on-demand streamings at YouTube, artist Web sites and CMT.com.
Music videos were once thought to be on the wane when cable TV outlets such as MTV, VH1 and CMT started filling the day and prime time with more reality shows, movies and re-runs of old sitcoms.
And as record labels shrank, so did the promotional budgets that paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for each video, including location, hair and makeup, wardrobe and production.
â€œA lot of people talked gloom and doom, about a lot less videos coming our way,â€ said Sarah Trahern, senior vice president of programming for Great American Country, which is owned by Knoxville-based Scripps Networks and devotes 95 percent of its programming to country music.
Now, she said, labels are more strategic about when they release a video. Videos for new artists may only get made if and when their music gets traction on radio, or they could release one early to create a brand, as Warner Bros. did for new artist Whitney Duncan.
â€œIt used to be the standard that videos didnâ€™t come out until the label invested the money. Now artists are investing money on their own because they see the value in it,â€ GAC president Ed Hardy said.
Beginning Oct. 2, CMT will premiere nine videos by country stars Carrie Underwood, Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban, Sugarland, Reba McEntire, Miranda Lambert, Billy Currington and Michelle Branch.
â€œBig New Music Weekendâ€ is a promotional push to kick off the big fourth-quarter holiday selling season, said Jay Frank, senior vice president of music strategy for CMT, which is owned by MTV Networks.
â€œKnowing that the music industry can use as many good promotional jolts as it can, about a month ago we thought, â€˜What can we do to help that out?â€™ â€ he said. â€œ... We get ratings, artists get sales and everybody walks away happy.â€
While the networks have been criticized for not giving much time to videos, the numbers donâ€™t necessarily bear that out. Between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31, CMT played 17,463 music videos, according to Mediabase. During the same time period, Great American Country played 43,349, more than twice as many.
â€œWe have focused our strategy on being a country music destination,â€ Trahern said.
While video blocks still make up most of CMTâ€™s morning hours, afternoons and evenings target viewers with shows like â€œExtreme Makeover Home Edition,â€ â€œTrading Spouses,â€ â€œThe Singing Bee,â€ â€œMy Big Redneck Weddingâ€ and â€œAre You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?â€ currently dominating the lineup, said Nashville media analyst Robert Unmacht.
â€œWhatâ€™s the target here? Redneck women,â€ he said. â€œI see a lot of non-country on CMT. Theyâ€™re selling demographic, and their marketing side be damned.â€
CMTâ€™s Frank said videos are just one part of the mix.
â€œYou can pull up YouTube on your phone. You donâ€™t have to sit around and wait for it to come on TV. The videos are always there, but the reality is that for most of the TV viewing day, viewers have told us they donâ€™t want all videos. Itâ€™s really about the right strategic mix.â€
Most labels are eager to get their artists airtime, whether through videos or interviews and performances on the two dominant country music networks.
While they no longer routinely fork over six figures for any artists on their label, inexpensive technology has allowed creative directors to make videos for thousands of dollars, rather than hundreds of thousands.
â€œThereâ€™s definitely a revived interest in videos,â€ Frank said. â€œBut the days of just easily making a six-figure video are largely gone.â€
The convergence of television, the online space, video on demand and mobile devices has contributed to a different aesthetic for making videos, some of which now incorporate those media.