Is MTV forgetful of Gen-X & clueless of Gen-Y?

TRL 200o via GoBritney

If video killed the radio star, then MTV killed the video with reality television and mindless fluff.

Their lease will be up in about two months and guess what folks? MTV isn’t renewing their top-shelf spot atop the streets in New York’s Times Square. The windows, that view, the chaos – it’s all finished. Done. Gone.


In a recent interview with John Norris, one of the most memorable MTV veejays, he seemed to think that TRL was “lame” and that the show was overrun by teeny boppers and new wave grunge artists who made crap music post-Nirvana. That, together with, the demise of the music video and the rise of reality television has killed off what the network used to stand for.

I completely disagree.

Seems to me like Mr. Norris is a Gen-X, stuck in a the same mentality MTV was built on, but couldn’t grow out of. But unlike Mr. Norris, who ignored them all together, MTV paid attention too and then bypassed the newly 20-something Gen-Ys that sustained the MTV brand and, rather, moved into bed with pre-pubescent Disney. Literally.

{TRL 1999}
I feel like 8th grade all over again.

Boys Bands & the Disney Star

In an open letter I wrote to MTV after watching their 2009 Movie Awards, I was highly irritated and thought I lost brain cells watching a show that clearly wasn’t aimed at anyone over the age of 16.

When did that happen? When did MTV become Disney 2.0?

Talk about #fail.

Here’s the thing: when I was a teeny bopper, Britney Spears had just come out with “Baby One More Time,” she was on tour with ‘N Sync, Justin Timberlake had peroxide hair that Tom Felton does better, and the Backstreet Boys were dominating the charts. There was a girl swiveling her hips to “Genie in a Bottle” and the Spice Girls were on their way out…

Well, for today’s teeny boppers, my Britney Spears is their Miley Cyrus. But the major difference is so critical and so obvious, again, I feel like I’m the only person on the planet who seemed to have noticed The Disney Star.

That’s right – the Jonas Brothers, Miley Cyrus and those brats from High School Musical.

MTV has spent the past five (or more) years trying to compete with Disney and the Disney “audience.”

Let’s get one thing straight, there is only one rat in this world, his name is Mickey and no one can compete with the power of his high-pitched, more Minnie than Minnie, voice of power.

So I would love it if someone could explain to me, why MTV even tried?

Let me break it down for you one step further – while, MTV was chasing after the Miley Cyrus wannabes, the Jonas Brothers crushings and whether or not Vanessa Hudgens was ever going to be dumped by Zac Efron – they completely neglected Gen-X and most of all, the now grown-up group of Britney’s “Oops” Gen-Y.

Those two audiences were the ones that made MTV what they were, gained them the success that they had enjoyed and ultimately MTV left them hanging with absolutely nothing to watch on the network.

Reality television and Total Request Live

While, four million people may have tuned in to watch The Hills, I’d like to draw your attention to two specific things that are so obvious, they’ve been overlooked…again:-

  • The Hills is on in prime time television. Unlike it’s early years, TRL was on in the early afternoons in the last leg of its run.
  • The Hills may have had four million views, but there are over 80 million Millennials in the United States and come 2010, Gen-Y is expected to be the largest population generation in the country.

So why is any of that important?

TRL 1998 for Hanson -- Image by Vic DeLucia of The New York Times

It’s important, because when I was thirteen, Hanson was on top of the world, Carson Daly used to host TRL and it was on after 5 p.m. Housed in a small room, lit by fairy lights, with Carson sitting in front of a computer, on his own – no guests, no blitz, no flashes; it was something to be built upon.

In retrospect, I can think of at least four different ways TRL could have saved itself and MTV could have STAYED music television.

When it looks to the naked eye like CNN played more music videos the day that Michael Jackson died than MTV has in all of 2009, you know something is terribly off-center.

Carson & Damien by MTV

Millennial Meltdown

MTV started with “Video Killed the Radio Star,” it was embraced by Gen-X, loathed by the Boomers and it tried to relate to Gen-Y.

My 20-something friends would still be watching MTV if we weren’t bombarded by Heidi Montag, the vampires from Twilight with bad makeup jobs and a serious lacking of Chris Rock.

Have we simply out grown MTV? Is this what the underlying issue really is?

It’s been said over and over again – Gen-Y is smart, they are quick, they want things right now and it’s true. You are dealing with a generation who wants to know WHY – you can’t tell them WHAT.

Whatever happened to Rock The Vote? I don’t recall it ever being as “in your face” as it was back in 2000 or 2004. And what about all those investigative reports MTV used to do?

Suchin Pak and Gideon Yago on the CBS Early Show

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I seem to remember the days of Suchin Pak and Gideon Yago talking to soldiers in the Middle East, homeless people on the streets of New York and having hour long “personal” interviews with Madonna.

That was the MTV I remember, that was the MTV I would watch today. It used to give me something I couldn’t get online or anywhere else. And while YouTube plays music videos — it was MTV that made the music video what it was.

While, Ryan Seacrest might have replaced Carson Daly in interviewland, E! News could never replace the content MTV used to offer and that’s probably where MTV got their eggs mixed up with oranges.

When I can get the same content MTV is providing me with from Twitter, Cinematic, Disney and Perez Hilton – why would I watch it?

Especially, when – guess what?


I don’t want that content. I want my old MTV back.

Like I said, if video killed the radio star, then MTV killed the video with reality television and mindless fluff.

What say you?


Sasha Muradali runs the ‘Little Pink Book’ . She holds a B.S. in Public Relations from the University of Florida (’07) and an M.A. in International Administration from the University of Miami(’08). She loves Twitter and all things social media, so you should find her @SashaHalima.

Copyright © 2009 SashaH. Muradali. All Rights Reserved


  1. I completely agree- instead of competing with Disney, MTV should be focusing on creating their own niche with “wonky pop” a la Lady Gaga and “new folksy” stuff such as Bon Iver, etc.

    It's a shame that MTV god rid of all the good shows like True Life, they were informative and educational (for the most part) as well as entertaining.

    I want the old MTV back too.

    I also miss the awesome VJ's like Dave Holmes, Suchin, Gideon, Quddus, Ray Munns, etc.

  2. I always wonder what happened to MTV. I think when they “retired” TRL, I officially knew that their run was over.

    Their shows suck, they never play videos anymore, and there isn't anything that they offer me that I can't find somewhere else. I remember when MTV would get the exclusive interviews, the world premiere videos, and the behind-the-scenes with some of our favorite artists. Instead of continuing that tradition (especially when people love their music more than ever), they chose to embrace programming that I still can't make sense of – I mean c'mon, “I'm 16 and pregnant” ???

    You gotta' wonder what they were thinking. I remember at the last VMAs, I had never seen some of the videos that were nominated. Now, that's a problem.

    Anyway, I can vent forever. My point is, they were such an innovative and creative force, and they chose to throw that away for reasons I'll probably never understand…and it's really unfortunate.

    Well written article Sasha!

  3. It's crazy how much MTV has changed over the years…”music television” doesn't even have music anymore! While I get slightly addicted to relativity TV, I do wish I could actually see some music sometimes!

  4. I wholeheartedly agree. I also remember when the Disney channel was worth watching a couple years after I was supposed to outgrow it. In the 90s they had educational and entertaining shows…maybe our generation's tastes are just more sophisticated, because the golden ages of Nick, Disney, and MTV are over. Back when we were kids our parents wouldn't let us watch MTV because it was “for older kids,” but in recent years it's basically just been the stage for people like the Jonas Brothers and Zack Efron. Sigh. Astute observations.

  5. I don't think it's realistic to expect that a media entity that you liked when you were 15-16 would continue to stay relevant to you at 23-24. MTV has always aimed to reflect the zeitgest of youth culture. At the moment, the kids are obsessed with Disney stars and reality shows, so of course thats where they're focused.

    You can lament the loss of Rock The Vote all you want, but that's not where the teens of today are looking for their political news.

    Also, I'm wondering if you are aware that Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera are all former castmembers of the Mickey Mouse Club.

    We all gotta grow up sometime.

  6. dianaadams says

    I also agree. I grieved the “death” of MTV a long time ago when I started noticing this trend. I remember back when MTV was brand new, I was a little girl. Now, my son, at almost 9 years old, doesn't even know what MTV is. It is completely 180 degrees different from the fun channel we used to all watch.

  7. I totally agree. MTV isn't even a shadow of what it used to be….the reason it got big in the first place. It isn't even about music anymore, ironically. Sheema is right, they should be focusing on untapped niches and adding real music-centric value. There's no passion for music anymore, it's just forgettable temporary sensationalism. Interesting for a moment, but totally forgettable IMO.

  8. You know what…here's a question/idea. Maybe you'll agree. When did MTV start tailoring to trends in teen culture…they used to CREATE culture by surfacing great music and allowing us to cluster around it. That was the main selling point. They would be at the very edge of new music trends. They've lost that somewhere along the way by doing what was popular (reality tv etc). They have such a massive stake in culture creation and they are ignoring their responsibility to create the industry instead of just doing what is popular.

  9. @mikeschaffer says

    I miss the pre-TRL MTV.

    Anyone else remember the landmark “Remote Control” gameshow that helped launch Adam Sandler's career?

    Downtown Julie Brown?

    Yo MTV RAPS?

    What about Singled Out, with the pigtailed Jenny McCarthy?

    Beavis and Butthead?

    I accepted long ago (about the time TRL started) that MTV and I would never have the same relationship again.

    Yes, when MTV started, it was all about the music. But a few years after, it took on less of a “radio-on-TV” feel and they added programming that targeted their demo. It used to be college and 20-somethings.

    Obviously, it has skewed younger and younger…and doesn't even closely resemble what I watched after school in the 80s and early 90s.

  10. @mikeschaffer says

    I miss the DJs too…everyone but the lanky weirdo that won the first “I Wanna Be A VJ Contest.” He can stay gone.

  11. I absolutely LOVED this. I was a teenie bopper with Britney and the Spice Girls and NSYNC too! I miss the old MTV.

  12. I am soooo with you on this. I was also a teenybopper during the age of TRL and it sucks how bad the network has gone down hill since. I miss when MTV News actually did NEWS like you said. And when they did exclusive interviews and upfronts with musicians, actors, etc. Thats oneo f the things that I loved about TRL the most because it wasnt just music (HECK they barely even showed music LOL). And i feel like they ruined the show by putting it on at like 1pm…it needed to stay at its 430-5pm timeslot or a little later. Ughh..and its sad cause i dont even watch MTV anymore…its just a waste of a channel that used to dictate my childhood. RIP

  13. Obviously, someone grew up and stopped trying to create culture. Instead of their fast past attention-starved minds being overloaded they’ve become stale. They used to have a fresh edgy lens on which they viewed the world with a specific voice. Now they sound like a cookie-cutter culture, tying to follow in the footsteps of others. Their culture leaders lost their Midas touch or they got tired of being on the edge. Maybe their leaders started taking Paxil, Wellbutrin, Prozac and Ritlain, which resulted in dull programming for the lulled personality? Perhaps the adrenaline rush of finding something new and displaying it for the world to see over-taxed their bodies and minds. Unfortunate, that they have become culture-less and adopted a different approach of following fads for a younger audience. It’s also not as hard work, just saying.

  14. Britney, Justin and Christina were all Disney stars, too. This is nothing new.

  15. ericadiana says

    I could not agree with you more! And its not just MTV, I cant watch VH1 anymore either!

  16. I love your commentary. I haven't watched MTV in years and I am from the Gen X world. The suggestion of going back to in depth interviews and being relevant again is a great one.

    When I used to watch music tv I would watch VH-1 for the Behind the Music series. I love that show!

    It is sad MTV is wanting to become Disney 2.0. I work in the sports and entertainment field so I am subject to these teeny bopper groups which come in and out of Detroit on a regular basis.

    I do not understand why Jonas Brothers is touring every 6 months in Detroit. Crazy.

    Disney is a money making machine.

  17. There's nothing you didn't say here that I haven't thought or conversed about with friends that scoff at me when I even watch America's Best Dance Crew these days. It is a sad day when you can seriously watch mtv( and sister company VH1 not far behind)for almost 24 hours and only catch music snippets.

    Sounds like they need their own “Save the Music” campaign.

  18. Hands down. I have nothing to add to that. Steffan, you hit the nail on the
    head and, yes, I completely agree with you.

    Well said! 🙂

  19. Jesse Camp!!!

    hahahahahahaha 🙂

  20. Thanks Lolly 🙂

  21. Thanks Lolly 🙂

  22. I think you're right on the money, Jeff. They aren't even close to being on
    the edge. This reminds me of what Seth Godin has been chanting for years –
    make great products for a few and be remarkable or (do what MTV is doing now
    and) make average products for the masses. The only problem is that no one
    has come up with a competitor to force them back to the edge. We need a new
    revolutionary music television network to recapture people's attention and
    start creating that entrepreneurial sense of shared grass-roots music
    culture. Someone GET ON IT. 🙂

  23. lol, I would imagine it's the same in Orlando.

    But you know what? I know that Britney, Christina, Justin etc., were Mickey
    Mousers — but at the same time, there was more content in old MTV then than
    there is now.

    MTV hardly is about music anymore, you have to tune into MTV2 etc., to get
    those. Isn't it supposed to be the other way around?

    Thanks for your comments Jamie!

  24. Michelle, said it in the other comments:-

    “Sounds like they need their own “Save the Music” campaign.”

    I agree.

  25. This is an amazing post, not just because it reflects the angsty “halfway betwixt X-and-Y” sentiment I've been feeling for years, but also because–from a marketing and branding point of view–you're also spot-on about MTV's flailing regarding their target audience.

  26. Hi Joe!

    Thank you so much for your comment! I really appreciate it and I'm glad you
    can relate!

    Best wishes,
    Sasha 🙂

  27. This is an amazing post, not just because it reflects the angsty “halfway betwixt X-and-Y” sentiment I've been feeling for years, but also because–from a marketing and branding point of view–you're also spot-on about MTV's flailing regarding their target audience.

  28. Hi Joe!

    Thank you so much for your comment! I really appreciate it and I'm glad you
    can relate!

    Best wishes,
    Sasha 🙂

  29. This is an amazing post, not just because it reflects the angsty “halfway betwixt X-and-Y” sentiment I've been feeling for years, but also because–from a marketing and branding point of view–you're also spot-on about MTV's flailing regarding their target audience.

  30. Hi Joe!

    Thank you so much for your comment! I really appreciate it and I'm glad you

    can relate!

    Best wishes,

    Sasha 🙂