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The Death of Mainstream Music TV in the UK

by Victoria Aitken

I was recently at the Amsterdam Dance Event, the biggest and most amazing dance event in the world, which grows every year exponentially.  Sadly, the growth and love for dance music doesn’t translate into television… or at least mainstream television, anyway.While attending ADE this year, there were many TV crews such as Clubbing TV (France), MTV (Russia), iMusic TV (Germany), BPM TV (USA), Dance TV (Portugal), 101.tv and 3voor 12 (Netherlands), documenting various world DJs showcase their skills.  I wondered, where would these shows been seen, since music mainstream TV shows seem to have died. And how big is the audience for music television today?

In the 90’s Top of the Pops was one of the most popular TV shows in the world, and a source that many followed to get their music. The show featured stages in cities like LA, London, New York and Hong Kong where stars would show up and perform. Those “shows” were franchised to over 100 cities around the world, with the producers switching the extras around to fit to that area. For example, if Britney Spears was performing and it was for an Asian audience they would put in an Asian background or use a presenter from that region in front of the cameras.

But today there is no Top of the Pops, or indeed any mainstream music TV show in the UK. A Sky executive told me that, “Nowadays there is no gauge to see who is popular in the “charts” since there is so much illegal downloading so there no real way of seeing who is really liked, by the “people”.  Radio stations are kind of corrupt only playing their favorites and those who have money can pay a radio plugger to get somewhere–PR power is everything. So audiences perhaps felt what’s the point of having a chart TV show. In a way it can be said that illegal downloading has helped hasten the death of mainstream music television.

But legal avenues have had their impact, too. As magazine 365 say, “people found other ways to source their music other than a top 40 show on TV and therefore less people watch chart shows. With the rise of ITunes, and YouTube, you can look up when you want to hear music – everything is now more immediate, now you can watch TV, on demand when you want to see it, how and where. So waiting for one night of the week to see the top charts is now irrelevant.”

Perhaps another reason why there is isn’t much of music TV might have a lot to do with the rise of rap artists urban and esp. EDM artists – as one TV exec said to me:  “EDM artists do not make good television. A DJ djing in front of DJ decks is not visually exciting as opposed to old fashioned “dressed” up pop stars who really put on a show and performance with dancers, costumes and such. And whatever people might say, DJs are not rock stars, nobody cares which DJ is dating who or what a DJ eats, lives, breaths, DJ’s don’t have the same kind of mythical aura of pop stars.”

Robbie Van Zoggel from 3voor12 concurred, saying “having a great DJ technical skill doesn’t make anyone an idol to adore”. He suggested that idolization is something of the past and perhaps there’s been a saturation of icons.  So there is a bigger disconnect today between what makes good TV – and what is good pop music (although there is still Lady Gaga, of course).

But as Zoggel says, “the 80s made good music TV, but those kinds of pop culture shows were expensive to produce.” Times have changed. He also thought that the audience for watching pop stars on TV has had its time–only the die hard fans would watch a pop show, and hence the move away from music TV shows just shows what an audience wants and tolerates. His channel focuses on filming festivals in Holland as a lot of them sell out very fast, so his TV program provides a service for those who wanted to go to the concert, but can watch a perfectly recorded live show from the comfort of their arm chair if they couldn’t get tickets.  He thinks that people want to experience a festival vibe and lifestyle over again.  But 3voor12 isn’t mainstream, it just caters to an audience who enjoy a certain lifestyle.

However, some would argue that DJs are the new “pop” stars–at least the ones with huge budgets, anyway.  Clubbing TV say that “Dj’s are very visual on TV, such as Tiesto, David Guetta, they all have visual aspects to their show. In a way, our TV Programs offers a service. Our motto is ‘we bring the party to your house.’ You don’t need a DJ, and you can just switch on the TV and see the show right there.” Another DJ TV network executive said, “we get the whole DJ set on 5 cameras and we bring the party to your home.  It’s updated music from the best Dj’s in the world, it’s sexy like Fashion TV and perfect for any bars, women shows, cafes…

DJ John Acquaviva thinks the decline of music television has a lot to do with how MTV are doing their programming: “it’s all about reality TV. What’s happened to the music? It’s now MTV – moronic television.” On the MTV website, all the headline shows have titles like “Meet the new housemates,” “new Teen Mom season 4.”

Unlike the glory days of MTV or Top of the Pops, TV ratings for popular music are very low. What there is in terms of music shows today are shows on the fringes of television such as “Later” with Jools Holland.  There is some content on BBC 4, but it’s more for older audiences – such as documentaries on bands or documentaries of singer-songwriters

For the younger audiences, there is Simon Cowell’s X Factor, which really has nothing to do with music or original artistic talent and really is simply another version of MTV’s “New house mate.” People watch X Factor not for its music but for soapy pseudo-reality emotional arcs, and the public humiliation of others.

Generally music TV has gone online to YouTube shows like SBTV, which played a huge part in creating Ed Sheeneen.  So it looks like music television isn’t going to go back mainstream anytime, soon. Perhaps YouTube is the new MTV and artists need not worry as record sales, and music videos sales are a thing of the past, anyway. In terms of making money, they are really only  promotional tools for live shows. It seems if you want to see your favorite band, your best bet really is to just book a ticket to their next gig.