MTV Tries Music Discovery: New Tune Or Catch-up?

image from www.google.comThirty years ago, MTV gave teenagers access to a world of new music through its musical programming 24/7/365. But over the last decade, the network has gotten further and further away from music, picking up love-to-hate yet hugely popular shows like Jersey Shore, 16 and Pregnant, I Used to be Fat, Skins and My Life as Liz. The yearning for a time when the “M” in MTV stood for “music” has been rehashed and recounted over and over again - and it seemed that there was no going back for the network - until recently.

Over the last few months, MTV announced 3 new projects which demonstrate the network’s attempt at returning to its role as a major player in music culture: the MTV Music Meter, MTV Hive, and the O Music Awards.

Launched in December and developed in collaboration with The Echo Nest, the Music Meter uses an algorithm that searches through blogs, social media, and video sites, as well as radio play and sales to determine which artists are leading the way in terms of internet buzz. Downplaying mainstream artists such as Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, and Kanye West, the Music Meter works as a discovery tool to help audiences find out about up-and-coming artists through 30-second snippets, videos, images, and similar artists recommendations.

The Hive, launched last month, is MTV's new website that again promotes decidedly non-Top 40 artists, publishing news, features, interviews, and videos. If all goes according to plan, the site will eventually move into online retail, selling MP3s, concert tickets, and band merchandise. MTV situates The Hive as similar to Pitchfork Media, Idolator, and the Hype Machine. According to Shannon Connolly, MTV VP of Digital Music Strategy, the Hive is like “a trusted friend covering cool new music.”

Last month also saw the announcement of the resurrection of the network’s much-loved music program 120 Minutes. Airing from 1986 to 2000, 120 Minutes introduced audiences to underground artists and alternative acts such as Nirvana, Sonic Youth, and Radiohead. The updated version will air monthly on MTV2, and will be hosted by MTV veteran Matt Pinfield. ‘120 Seconds,’ an online companion series, will be featured on The Hive’s website.

To top it off, last week MTV announced its newest foray into the new musical sphere. The O Music Awards is a new award show created to celebrate all things music in the digital space, though as MTV explains, the ‘O’ doesn’t stand for anything in particular – its meaning is “undefined and open to interpretation from viewers.” Voting takes place online, and categories include “Best Tweet,” “Best Hashtag Meme,” “Favorite Animated Gif,” and “Best Independent Music Blog.” The show will be livestreamed on omusicawards.com, MTV.com, VH1.com and LogoTV.com, and all mobile platforms at the end of the month.

MTV was once a leader in music discovery for many, and all of these projects illustrate a return to its musical roots. But I wonder, just how successful will the network be in establishing a voice in the already cramped marketplace of music discovery? Has the network already steered too far away from the role it once had in music in order for us to take these attempts seriously?

There's a good chance that the younger viewers who didn't witness the network's shift over the last decade may not be so critical of MTV's musical revamp – and those are the viewers who matter. But is MTV really changing its tune? Or is this just a weak attempt to cash in on what’s already been taking place in the music sphere over the last few years?

Alison McCarthy is a Brooklyn-based writer who focuses on the intersection of music, technology, and community. She’s a second-year graduate student of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University. You can follow her on Twitter: @aliiimac.


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