The music video has a long and disputed history. Italian-American singer Tony Bennett claims to have created the first music video. Others say Elvis Presley was the first. The Beatles certainly made ready use of the medium.
Early music video clips were aired on variety programs or music shows. In the 1960s, the syndicated TV show, American Bandstand (which usually focused on live music performances), was the first program to play them commercially (albeit sporadically).
In Australia in the 1970s, Countdown (on ABC) and Sounds (on Channel Seven) were the first to regularly air music videos as part of their broadcast, contributing to the development of the music program. At the same time, in the U.K., the BBC program Top of the Pops prompted the development of the music video as an art form.
These early forays aside, the modern commercial history of the music video in the U.S. has a precise start date and time: 12:01 a.m., August 1, 1981. In its early days, MTV channel exclusively aired music videos, presented by “Video Jockeys.” However, today in the U.S., MTV only plays three hours of music videos a day (mostly in the early morning).
Currently, the business model of music videos relies mostly on the Web, as most music videos are purchased for a few dollars on iTunes. Vevo, a joint venture between Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment, uploads on YouTube music videos produced by two of the world’s “Big Three” record labels, cashing in on the advertising revenue linked to them. According to Vevo’s data, 44.4 billion music videos were streamed globally between July of 2012 and June of 2013, with 10.4 billion of those views in the U.S. alone.
Vevo also has an advertiser-backed 24-hour music video Web channel. Warner Music, on the other hand, remains vehemently opposed to licensing music to online streaming services.
Users overwhelmingly prefer to watch music videos online. According to research firm TNS, a quarter of Internet users worldwide now watch video daily. However, examining costs of broadcasting music videos on television, it’s surprising they aren’t a more popular way of filling airtime. For broadcasters airing music videos, the cost is only about seven to eight percent of advertising revenue paid in licensing fees to the artist. Streaming services, on the other hand, pay upwards of 50 percent of advertising revenue in licensing fees.
So nowadays, which television programs or networks are still able to monetize music videos? In the U.S., VH1 (MTV’s sister channel, which initially broadcast music videos aimed at an older audience), still plays music during relatively accessible morning timeslots. However, organized under the same division of Viacom that manages MTV, the channel’s primetime programming has become primarily dedicated to reality shows. MTV’s other sister channel, CMT, once dedicated to country music, is also mostly centered on reality programming.
For viewers who want to watch actual music videos, sister channels of former music video channels seem to be the place to look. CMT Pure Country is the best place to find country music videos (previously VH1 country, the channel switched to the CMT brand after Viacom and CBS split). VH1 Soul plays Motown, soul and funk from a variety of decades in various programming blocks showcasing different kinds of artists. Closer to headquarters, MTV Jams plays urban contemporary and hip-hop music on an eight-hour programming wheel, while MTV Hits plays contemporary hits. The MTV Networks division of Viacom manages all of these channels.
Also under Viacom, BET has a programming hour called “106 and Park” (named after the original filming location in Harlem, New York City before moving to Midtown West), showcasing music videos of urban contemporary, hip-hop and rap artists.
Viacom continues to be the dominant force in music video programming. In the U.S., non-Viacom owned channels include STC, focused on movie soundtrack music videos. Then there’s Revolt, which devotes a significant amount of broadcast time to music videos. Established as a joint venture between Sean “Diddy” Combs and Comcast, the channel was created in response to the pressure from U.S. TV authority FCC that Comcast to carry more minority-owned networks following the cable giant’s acquisition of NBCUniversal.
MYX TV, a wholly owned subsidiary of a Filipino network doing business under the same name, also devotes a significant amount of time to music videos, mostly coming from Asia and showcasing Asian artists.
Additionally, Music Choice Play, owned by Canadian company Stingray Digital, airs a large number of music videos, often on other TV networks it owns. The Music Choice brand is also used by Stingray for several European channels.
Largest amongst these players is probably Fuse, recently purchased by SiTV Media from the MSG Co., which not only broadcasts music videos during primetime access, but also retains a vaguely music-oriented program lineup.