Popular culture: Internet killed the video star?

As it celebrates its 25th anniversary, MTV, the pioneer music video channel, is facing fierce competition from new technology. Ian Burrell reports, while Terry Kirby lists 25 of its finest moments
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The Independent Online

"In my mind and in my car, we can't rewind, we've gone too far," sang The Buggles in their hit "Video Killed The Radio Star", the 1981 track that launched a phenomenon known as music television. A quarter of a century later, MTV is an enterprise that reaches 400 million viewers in 167 countries through a roster of presenters who collectively speak 22 languages.

Yet now that the MTV generation has grown up, the media landscape has changed in a way that would have the Buggles mastermind Trevor Horn wiping the lenses of his enormous spectacles in disbelief.

The music video most certainly has not killed the radio star - not when Terry Wogan can still command a UK audience of seven million on Radio 2, while music television cannot reach 500,000. In fact, 25 years after the birth of MTV, it is the conventional music video itself that is having to adapt to survive.

Children are increasingly demanding such content on their personal computers, their MP3 players and their mobile phones. On television, where MTV once reigned almost unopposed, the pioneer faces fierce competition.

Andy Duncan, the chief executive of Channel 4, which has made music central to its strategy, said: "I think MTV has been a great brand and is doing some exciting and innovative things but it's a tougher world it's going into, compared to the one it has come from." He noted that the Red Hot Chili Peppers and other star acts had chosen to launch their new videos on Channel 4, where they could expect to reach a larger audience than on digital television.

MTV, which has never had quite the same status in the UK as it has in the US - where it is a staple of pop culture - has faced growing competition with the emergence of a raft of new music channels. Nick Dereka, channel manager of Channel U, launched in 2003 to cover "urban" music genres, including hip hop, said: "Music is everywhere now and there are niche operators opening up almost every day. MTV is, in my view, too generic and there's just too much crammed into too little a space."

To protect its market share, MTV has diversified into a family of channels, including VH1, MTV Dance, MTV Base, MTV Hits and VH1 Classic. At the same time it has moved away from being simply a broadcaster of music videos towards a more imaginative programming policy that has resulted in a succession of hit shows such as The Osbournes and Jackass. The Radio 1 rap DJ Tim Westwood was brought in to make a successful British version of the hit US show Pimp My Ride.

Some media analysts believe that MTV, which is part of the US-based media empire Viacom, is clever enough to reinvent itself for the future. Chris Hayward, the head of broadcast for Zenith Optimedia, said MTV had faced "challenges" because its young target audience was at the vanguard of rapidly-evolving technologies. "The audience is happy taking music videos on their mobile phones and is at ease with computers. I don't think it's by any stretch of the imagination a criticism of MTV that the enormous advances in technology in the past five years have been significant challenges to MTV in retaining its share of the audience," he said. "But MTV has the talent base to be very healthy in the future."

The channel's position has also been challenged by social networking websites such as MySpace.com, which recognise that young people are no longer satisfied with being merely passive consumers of music. MTV is well aware of this. Yesterday it launched its own community website, MTV Flux, which will allow members to upload their own content on to television. It is also at the forefront of providing music video, animation and other content to users of mobile phones.

1981

Video Killed The Radio Star The Buggles

It was actually released in 1979, but this somewhat naff but entirely appropriately titled video had the honour of opening MTV on 1 August, 1981

1982

Rio Duran Duran

With sexy "Girls on Film" and glamorous "Rio" shot on 35mm film rather than videotape, New Romantic boys Duran Duran and MTV were perfect partners

1983

Thriller Michael Jackson

A 16-minute epic, taking the rock video into new territory, directed by John Landis and featuring a parade of dancing ghouls, including one named Michael Jackson

1984

Two Tribes Frankie Goes To Hollywood

Relatively unknown groups begin to use the medium artfully, as in this Cold War wrestling match, with Holly Johnson as ringmaster

1985

Money For Nothing Dire Straits

Another film that defined the channel's early years, with computer graphics and Mark Knopfler's MTV-referenced lyrics a tribute to its growing influence

1986

Sledge-Hammer Peter Gabriel

Robert Palmer and his cloned backing band may have been definitely sexier, but Peter Gabriel's Claymation epic was the innovative video of the year

1987

Fight For Your Right (to party) Beastie Boys

Rap would eventually dominate world of MTV and this early success from the first white rappers quickly became an early MTV staple

1988

I Should Be So Lucky Kylie Minogue

Neighbours star Kylie flounced around telling us she was so lucky, but with no clues as to why (that fringe was definitely a misfortune). Could have been shot in 1958

1989

Like A Prayer Madonna

Madonna crafts videos as carefully as her songs; here, the controversial Catholic imagery lost her a $5m Pepsi sponsorship deal. Voted top video by MTV viewers

1990

Nothing Compares 2 U Sinead O'Connor

Wacky singer's version of Prince's anthem for the broken-hearted. Featured moody shots of Paris and a single tear shed in close-up

1991

Unfinished Sympathy Massive Attack

Filmed in one take, singer Shara Nelson strides through a Los Angeles neighbourhood, indifferent to the action around her. Simple, but elegiac

1992

Bohemian Rhapsody Queen

When it was first released in 1975, it pioneered the filming of rock music in the new video medium. It topped the charts again in 1992

1993

Everybody Hurts REM

REM's hymn of comfort to those contemplating suicide was directed by Ridley Scott's son Jake. It portrays the inner thoughts of those stuck in a traffic jam

1994

Sabotage Beastie Boys

This parody of an American television cop show marked the debut of director Spike Jonze, who would later go on to direct videos for Fatboy Slim and others

1995

Common People Pulp

Michael and Janet Jackson's "Scream" was the most expensive pop video ever. But Jarvis Cocker in a shopping trolley pushed by Sadie Frost was much more fun

1996

Wannabe Spice Girls

Girl power blasted its way into our lives as the five Spices careered around a hotel. This video was also said to have been done in one take. It all seems so long ago...

1997

Smack My Bitch Up The Prodigy

Sex and violence, with a terrific final twist. MTV would only screen it at night; recently voted "Most Controversial MTV Video of All Time"

1998

The Sweetest Thing U2

Bono's video apology to his wife features a parade of her favourite things, including Boyzone popping up to sing the chorus. Great idea, great fun

1999

Baby One More Time Britney Spears

The phenomenon that is Britney was launched with this schoolgirl fantasy and an impossibly catchy hook. The first of many mega-hits

2000

Stan Eminem

The white rapper shot to fame with this dark story of an obsessive fan. The song featured Dido as his doomed and pregnant wife and she also became a star on the back of it

2001

Can't Get You Out Of My Head Kylie Minogue

Kylie is one of the queens of MTV, with hits in three different decades. This futuristic-styled dance number was essentially a Kraftwerk tribute

2002

Dirrty Christina Aguilera

Mud-wrestling, bondage and a flick of sado-masochism feature as Christina tries to out-raunch Britney. Great video, shame about the song

2003

Crazy In Love Beyonce

Once freed from the pop constraints of Destiny's Child, Beyoncé shows she can get down and dirty in a vest with the best, abetted by rapper Jay-Z

2004

Call On Me Eric Prydz

While hip hop videos get ever more explicit, unknown Swedish DJ Prydz produced this conventionally styled Dirty Dancing update complete with leg-warmers

2005

Lose Control Missy Elliot

After 25 years of innovation, it's back to basics. Terrific dancing helped this slice of hip hop to win a Grammy and a raft of MTV award nominations last year

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