MTV seeks new tune as fortunes dive

LONG GONE are the days when thousands of pounds were lavished on music videos shot in exotic locations. Cutting-edge directors no longer use them to hone their skills in preparation for the big screen. And now MTV, the channel which made the music video king in the Eighties, has decided the art form is on the way out.

A new programming chief at MTV in America this week shook up the US industry when he ordered 20 programme pilots. His plan is to turn MTV from a music video channel into a teenage lifestyle channel.

The pilot series represent the biggest investment the channel has made in programming and will see comedy, drama and variety shows replace a line-up which has remained largely wall-to-wall videos since it launched. Some of the new programmes will try to breathe life into videos by having an "artist's cut", where a band member is featured on the screen sharing insights on the making of the video. A "videosectomy" show will have panellists analysing the day's most popular videos.

But, despite these efforts, it is acknowledged that the music video's days as a money-maker, let alone as a supposed art form, are over. "Their ratings hit a plateau and have been in steady decline for the last three or four years in the US," says Steve King, a director of Zenith Media Worldwide, the media buying agency.

MTV has recently been forced to enlist rock stars and local teenage activists in places such as Denver to stop cable operators taking the channel off because of falling ratings.

On top of competition from other channels, MTV has suffered because the music industry no longer invests as much in their artists' flights of fantasy. "Music videos have got into a real cul-de-sac," says Steve Redmond, editor of the music industry magazine Fono. "The number of records being released is on the increase and the pressure is there to do a video for every one, so the money for them is getting spread more thinly."

An MTV UK spokeswoman said the channel here, which makes its own shows, has already turned from a music video channel to a music channel that happens to have some videos on it.