MTV is a television network that used to be the hallmark of music videos.
Whenever a band released a new single, their fans would eagerly wait for the music video to drop on the popular cable channel.
It became a place where music and its culture had their spotlight.
MTV stopped playing music videos as abundantly as it used to.
Here’s what you need to know about MTV and when it stopped playing music videos.
When Did MTV Stop Playing Music Videos?
MTV made the switch from airing music videos to reality shows starting in the late ’90s and early 2000s.
For many MTV historians and fans, the change accelerated after the release of the TV show The Real World.
The Real World has the credit for being the first TV show to push reality TV into what it is today.
The show featured six to seven normal adults who end up living together in the same house.
It’s essentially like Big Brother, but without the eliminations.
Viewers were able to see relationships blossom and falter.
Topics like sex, drug use, AIDs, politics, and death were common on the show.
So was drama.
The show got its start in 1992 and featured a new season every year until 2017.
It eventually moved to Paramount’s streaming service, Paramount+ where it will be receiving a revamp.
The Real World indicated a major shift in MTV’s content.
It moved away from music videos and shows about music to reality shows.
Why Did MTV Stop Playing Music Videos?
One of the biggest questions that early MTV fans have about the network is why the company decided to shift away from the very thing they focused on.
After all, it’s in their name: Music Television.
The switch came for a few different reasons.
Here are a few reasons MTV stopped playing music videos.
1. Cable Competition
One of the biggest reasons MTV had to make the switch was the amount of competition on cable.
There were a few other music channels on cable like VH1 and BET.
Some cable packages even had music channels that played music all day, although they didn’t have music videos accompanying them.
Considering that people watched MTV for the music videos, the rise of any competing other musical platform was a problem.
There wasn’t enough content to keep a viewer engaged with their channel.
Like other networks, MTV is reliant on viewers.
They need them to stick with the channel and watch their commercials.
That’s how they earn money.
When you have another show like VH1 around, then you have a case where people are flipping between the two channels and ignoring commercials.
When a song they don’t care for airs on MTV, then they can flip to VH1 or any other music channel to catch something they do enjoy.
As such, MTV was unable to earn a lot of money.
This is true of other shows, too.
The viewer can easily switch between other channels when there isn’t a song they enjoy on MTV.
It makes the channel miss out on potential revenue which impacts how the channel performs.
A change needed to happen for the channel to survive.
MTV stopped playing music videos because there was too much competition on cable.
2. Short-Form Content
Another problem that MTV had is that music videos are, inherently, short-form content.
Even if they have a 15-minute block of music videos, that means they’re filling that block with around five different videos.
The chances that someone is going to dislike one of those videos are high.
That’s because MTV wasn’t specific to any one genre of music.
It shined a light on all genres.
That said, it also worked against them because people who are rock fans would likely stop watching the channel if a country song started playing.
Or someone who enjoys pop might stop watching if metal starts playing.
This causes a problem because the person has already left the channel before a commercial could air.
It causes MTV to lose money.
Long-form content, like scripted series or reality TV shows, holds audiences better.
The viewer wants to watch the story until its end.
They want to see what else the people in the house are going to get up to.
There’s less of a reason for them to switch to another channel because they’re engaged with the drama.
This means that they’re also watching commercials and earning MTV money.
MTV had to stop showing music videos more often because its short-form nature increased the chances of its viewers bouncing to a different channel.
3. Greater Viewership
The problem with showing only music videos is that you have a very niche audience.
You’re counting on music lovers to watch your channel.
While a lot of people enjoy music, not everyone loves it to the point where they want to binge music videos all day.
This creates a problem with the number of viewers that MTV can take in.
By playing reality TV shows instead, MTV opens itself to a wider audience.
It’s easier to attract viewers to reality TV shows than it is to music videos.
That’s because, even with music lovers, each person tends to only enjoy a genre or three.
The moment something comes on that they don’t enjoy, they’re likely to leave the channel.
Producing reality TV shows is a safer bet.
There are always a large number of people who want to watch people participate in silly drama.
It’s a conversation starter.
It reminds them that at least their lives aren’t quite as dramatic.
Since reality TV shows attract a larger audience, it also means that MTV earns more money when they watch commercials.
As a business, it only makes sense that MTV would decrease the number of hours in which they show music videos.
It allows them to fill those hours with reality TV instead, which means they can earn more money.
MTV stopped playing music videos as much because it kept them to a limited viewership.
Playing reality TV shows allowed them to grow their audience and earn more revenue.
4. Lack Of Fresh Content
Another problem with showing only music videos, with a few other music-related shows in between, is that you quickly run out of content.
It’s unlikely that a new music video is going to release every day.
They take time to shoot and produce.
Musical artists also need time to refresh themselves to make new music.
You can’t rely on them to push out new content every week.
This creates a content production problem.
When you don’t have new material to show your viewers, then they’re not going to tune into your show.
In many cases, viewers tune in to see the new music video, then go about their day.
They don’t need to see it again.
A few fans might binge the video whenever they can, but in most cases, a music video is a one-off experience.
This means that if there’s nothing new to draw people to the channel, then they’re not going to watch the channel.
They don’t need to watch MTV to listen to music.
They have radios and, at that time, CDs.
They only ever need to watch MTV if they want to watch the music video.
In most cases, they only need to watch it once.
MTV had to shift away from music videos because the lack of consistent new videos made their content stale.
One of the other big reasons that MTV had to change its content was the launch of YouTube.
YouTube got its start in 2005.
While it started with a simple video featuring someone’s day, it quickly became a powerhouse of content.
Musical artists started showing their music videos on YouTube instead.
They were able to earn money directly from the number of viewers that watched the video.
They didn’t need MTV anymore.
It also saw the rise of independent musical artists and their videos.
People were able to film fresh and engaging videos from their own phones.
It also changed how people listen to music.
Instead of buying CDs, people could listen to tracks on YouTube.
They could even watch concerts that people had filmed.
There was no longer a need to sit through tons of other music videos that you didn’t care for on MTV.
You could watch the one you wanted to see and hear with a simple search on YouTube.
MTV had no way to compete.
The only thing they could do to survive was to change their content.
That’s why, particularly after 2005, the channel saw a substantial increase in its reality TV programming.
MTV has only further invested in its reality TV programming in recent years.
Some of its most popular reality TV shows include:
- Teen Mom
- Jersey Shore
- True Life Crime
It also branched into drama TV series like:
- Teen Wolf
- The Shannara Chronicles
While YouTube may have beaten them out with music videos, MTV knew it could survive by relying on its reality TV and scripted series.
A final reason MTV likely won’t be going back to music videos any time soon is the rise of TikTok and related social apps.
TikTok, in particular, allows people to send short videos to the wider public.
This also allows independent musical artists to perform for audiences without the standard music production of videos.
It makes the performance more authentic and intimate among their fans.
TikTok gives the younger generations instant access to all types of different music.
Many of them occur live.
That sort of experience and fresh content is difficult for something like a regulated TV network to compete with.
They can’t move as fast or necessarily create the same type of authenticity and intimacy.
TikTok and its related social apps offer instant access to music and musical performances which makes MTV even less relevant for music videos than before.
Can You Watch Music Videos On MTV?
For those who miss the old days of MTV, you’re in luck.
MTV has several channels that it owns.
This allows it to split its programming to attract the most viewers and keep them on those specific channels.
One channel that they own is MTV Classic.
On MTV Classic, they play music videos according to a few different blocks.
For example, one of their shows is ’90s Nation.
For an hour, they’ll play all the great music videos from the 1990s.
They also have music blocks for the music videos from the 1980s and heavy metal.
You can also still find music videos on the original MTV channel.
However, they tend to air music videos when everyone is asleep.
From midnight to five in the morning, you can find music videos airing on the main channel.
Not every cable package comes with MTV Classic, however, so if you want to relive the golden years of MTV, then you may need to upgrade your package.
Where Can You Watch Old MTV Music Videos?
If you want to watch old music videos that used to air on MTV, then you have a few options.
You can always stay up late and watch them on MTV and MTV2.
Both channels air music videos in the wee hours of the morning.
You can also watch MTV Classic which airs music videos all day.
If you don’t have MTV Classic as part of your cable package, there are a few other ways to watch it.
The channel is part of the following streaming services:
- DirecTV Stream
- Fubo TV
- Hulu + Live TV
- YouTube TV
Even if you don’t have YouTube TV, you can also always search for the video on YouTube.
Besides finding that specific video, you’ll find that some creators have made playlists featuring specific genres of music videos.
You can watch all the music videos of a certain band or genre.
There are even some mixes that you might enjoy.
YouTube has the largest access since you can watch anything you want with just a simple search.
When Did MTV Start Playing Music Videos?
Although MTV has mostly turned away from airing music videos, they were once the hallmark of music.
They aired their first video on August 1, 1981.
The video they first showed was Video Killed the Radio Star, by The Buggles.
The tongue-in-cheek song played just after midnight.
The station would go on to follow a Top 40 radio format.
They’d have video jockeys introduce new music videos and give brief comments on them between videos.
They’d give trivia and facts but keep the tone lighthearted.
MTV became the go-to place for music news and music videos, but its reign would eventually end in the ever-changing sphere of cable TV and technology.
MTV stopped playing music videos because the network couldn’t compete with the other cable TV networks.
They were at risk of running out of money and shutting down as a network.
The introduction of YouTube and other social media apps put the final nail in the coffin and forced the network to look for alternative content to keep their viewers on their channel.