Time Magazine,November 29, 1982, U.S. Edition
SECTION: VIDEO; Pg. 97
HEADLINE: Cable's Rock Round the Clock;
Recording stars strut their stuff nonstop on fast-growing MTV
They grew up together in the '50s, but television and rock 'n' roll have always been contrary siblings. One soothes, the other threatens. One offers visual Pablum, the other musical grits. Even in the packaged and homogenized forms developed by such entrepreneurs as Dick Clark and Don Kirshner, TV has rarely accommodated its more rambunctious relative. Until now, that is. Warner Amex Satellite Entertainment Co.'s MTV (Musical Television) is uniting the rival brethren in amplified harmony.
MTV is FM Stereo with pictures, a 24-hr. cable service that rocks round the clock with contemporary rock 'n' roll. Launched 15 months ago at a cost of more than $ 20 million, MTV reaches 8.1 million subscribers via satellite across the country and, with the methodical expansion of cable, anticipates adding an estimated 7 million more by late 1983. It is building a reputation as well as an audience. At the National Cable Programming Conference in Los Angeles last week, MTV won an ACE award, cable's equivalent of an Emmy, beating out competition like the SignatureM interview series on the now defunct CBS culture cable.
The main ingredients in MTV's programming are "video records" or "videos": current recordings illustrated by 3-or 4-min. videotapes (provided free to MTV by the record companies) in which rockers strut or act out their stuff. These are punctuated every few songs by the patter of veejays (video jocks).MTV also feature some live concerts, a range of promotional graphics that are sometimes wittier than the musical segments surrounding them, and flashes of rock gossip ("Split Enz don't use a conditioner").
The simulated performance clips tend to be dull and repetitive: lip syncs sink clips. But the best videos enhance the mood of a song and expand TV's generally unadventurous visual vocabulary. Nightmarish images from Billy Joel's subconscious accompany his shouts in the song Pressure; Stevie Nicks floats through a moving Magritte painting in Fleetwood Mac's Gypsy.
Nearly all radio disc jockeys are cut from the same cloth: polyester. For the self-conciously hip veejays of MTV, the style is leather and vinyl. Earnest and anodyne, Mark Goodman may spin rebellious new-wave video platters, but no teeny-bopper daughter would be afraid to bring him home to meet Daddy. Nina Blackwood, sultry and sloe-eyed, evokes a Los Angeles chich that contrasts neatly with Martha Quinn's preppie punk.
MTV is guided by Robert Pittman, a 28-year-old Videokind who, in his pin-stripped Brooks Brothers suit, looks as if he would be more at home listening to the Brandenburg Concertos than the Clash. A veteran of rock radio, Pittman is an apostle of "narrowcasting" and "psychographics." He believes in cable's ability to reach a specific audience, in this case, ages twelve to 34, whose members offer a distinct marketing profile. Apparently Madison Avenue is being convinced. Although MTV has yet to break even, so far 100 national advertisers have pushed their products on the service.
Indeed, with record executives singing dirges over the worst slump in many years, MTV is a possible savior. The hoped-for scenario: record companies produce the promos; MTV broadcasts them, providing free advertising for the music; viewers watch a video on MTV, like it and dash out to buy the disc. Maybe next year they'll be buying the cassettes.