I want my MTV!
Oh yeah! I was a rabid MTV fan as a teenager and even into adulthood. When MTV first aired, it was more about music than the current trend toward reality television. They actually lived up to their name, “Music Television.” The first video I watched on MTV was “Little Red Corvette” by the pop icon, Prince. Maybe I’m dating myself . . . I digress. MTV was revolutionary in the music video genre. They made it possible to watch your favorite music artist, singing your favorite songs in short videos. Genius idea. It sure beat “American Bandstand,” and “Soul Train.” Yes. I might have watched Soul Train. I was trying to learn how to dance. What can I say? The “Robot” is difficult to learn.
The current news about a new reality program on MTV called, “Losing It,” has once again put the network under a microscope. This show was to feature people in the pursuit of losing their virginity. Fortunately, the outcry from parents and major organizations caused MTV to cancel the show. If you scratch beneath the surface you will find the main reason for the cancellation was organizations threatening to remove advertisements. Make no mistake. It was not a decision based on morality. That’s never been their style. It was a simple issue of basic economics. So what does this say about MTV?
Music Television 101
MTV targets a younger audience. The idea behind the channel is one of marketing genius. In fact, most people think that MTV should change their name to ATV, for “Advertising Television.” Advertising is the main purpose for the network. This isn’t some tin-foil hat wearing conspiracy theory. They are very open in their pursuit of the billions of dollars an adolescent audience represents. Before we cast stones, it is important to point out that the purpose of every network is to make money. This is why they exist. The motivation is to create programs that will attract an audience. If you are successful in drawing an audience the product advertisers will follow. The more advertisers you attract, the more profit you generate for your network. This is business 101. It’s not that complex.
MTV’s parent company is Viacom. Viacom is an American global media company. They own several popular networks. Their most profitable networks are, MTV, Nickelodeon, Country Music Television, Comedy Central, and VH1. MTV is their most profitable network. It is estimated that MTV generates over one billion dollars in annual profits. The American market represents 80% of MTV’s revenue.
Teenagers represent MTV’s main source of revenue. Their largest audience comes from the 12-34 year old age group. If you focus the microscope a little more, you will find the primary audience is teenagers between the ages of 13-19. Over 32 million people in the Untied States watch MTV at least once a week. 8.5 million teenagers watch MTV at least once a day. It seems they have captured their target audience. This is by design.
There are currently around 32 million teenagers living in America. This represents the largest group of teenagers in American history. They are also the most marketed group of teenagers in the history of media. The reason is simple. Teenagers represent the age group with the most expendable income. Most agree that teenagers run today’s economy. On average, teenagers in America spend around 100 billion dollars of their earnings every year. Their parents contribute another 50 billion dollars to their desires. This means teenagers represent around 150 billion dollars in potential revenue. The math is simple. Companies target teenagers because they are willing to spend most of their earnings and certainly don’t mind spending their parents earnings. Starting to see the genius behind MTV? This was the impetus for the network. Their primary goal is to attract an audience who will buy the products advertised on their network. Attracting a teenage audience is the key to their success. Without teenagers, MTV would cease to exist.
MTV doesn’t view teenagers as people but as customers. Again, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. They exist to make money. They use various means to get into the mind of the teenage audience. They even use “Culture Spies” to obtain vital information. “Culture Spies,” are people hired to engage teenagers in their natural habitat. They infiltrate the teenage audience to obtain vital information about popular trends. They essentially want to know what teenagers view as cool. This information drives MTV’s programming. They cater to the teenagers perception of cool because cool sales products. They even have teams that visits teenagers in their homes. They are relentless in their pursuit of understanding the current popular teenage trends.
This is both genius and horrifying. If MTV learns the culture to reach into the wallets of this culture, then what does that say about the current teenage culture? All of MTV’s programs are specifically designed to reach the teenage audience. They learn the teenage culture so they can attract them to their network. This means their programming is shaped by the values and felt needs of the current teenage culture.
One of the most popular programs in the history of MTV is the realty show called “Jersey Shore.” This program features a group of friends living in New Jersey. There is no plot. Just an open view into the lives of the characters. It only takes one viewing to understand the basic premiss. They are all basically alcoholics who seem to live in a constant state of party. They routinely engage in sexual activity and generally represents a parents nightmare. Did I mention this is probably the most popular shows in the history of MTV? Jersey Shore has made instant celebrities of all of its characters. Keep in mind that this show only survives because of a teenage audience. What does this mean? This means teenagers living in America have created this monster. We can blame them for having to endure “The Situation,” and “Snooki.”
Let’s connect some dots. MTV sells out to learning everything they can about the current teenage culture. They learn the culture to reach the culture to make money. This means all of their programming is shaped by the values of the current teenage culture. Which leads us to the tragic conclusion that every show presented by MTV represents the very heartbeat of an entire generation of teenagers. MTV creates shows to attract what teenagers see as cool. They are not alone in this pursuit. If you look at the most popular television programs in the teenage demographic, you will find shows like, “Glee,” and “Family Guy.” Again, both representing the tone of a teenage culture. Let’s be clear. If Christianity was perceived as cool by the teenage culture, MTV and other networks would feature programs to attract that audience. “Jersey Shore” might be, “Jesus Shore.” Oh, that was bad. You get the point.
The reality is, despite the common sentiment, MTV is not out to shape the teenage culture through their programming. They just want their expendable income. However, their programming does reveal the current mentality of a teenage culture. If you want to know what this teenager culture perceives as cool, watch MTV. This is a heart breaking reality.
So instead of getting our pitchforks and torches and storming the 2nd floor of the Viacom Headquarters in New York City, we should take a deeper look at the values and norms of the teenage culture. MTV is simply a reflection of this teenage culture. If the values and morality of the teenage culture changed, so would MTV.
It’s always easy to cast blame for the current issues in adolescent culture. Sure, MTV should exhibit more caution in their programming. They are certainly cognizant of the fact that teenagers are extremely vulnerable and impressionable. This article is not a defense of MTV. But the bigger issue is a teenage culture drifting away from the very basics of civility and morality. The very things God instruct parents to teach and model to their children. The very things those in teenage leadership surrender their lives to proclaim. What does this revelation say about our efforts?
In a very real way, MTV is showing us the current tone of the teenage culture. If MTV pulled the plug on its network tomorrow it would do little, if anything to change a culture. Only God can do that. His divine plan is to use parents and those in His service to point teenagers toward His truths. Without obedience to God’s specific mandate, we can expect this culture to continue down the rabbit hole of sinfulness. Isn’t that the projected path of sinfulness highlighted in God’s word?
Until parents and those who lead teenagers understand this sobering reality, teenagers will still “Want their MTV.” And MTV will continue to reflect and profit from a culture that is rapidly moving away from God.