MTV Music Gets It Right, Right Out of the Box

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I had what can only be described as a Dickensian childhood in Northern Jer-Z. Sure, there was rack of lamb on the table and jet skis in the boathouse, but our utilities were delivered via a matrix of underground cables, as opposed to the traditional poles and wires. As a result, our meager 12 acres of land didn't get wired for cable TV until well into my adolescence.
Van Halen's 'Hot for Teacher'
Van Halen's 'Hot for Teacher'

This caused no small degree of upset. Why, oftentimes I had to ride my well-maintained bicycle a full seven-tenths of a mile -- mostly downhill -- to my friend Louis' house to avail myself of the best of what basic cable had to offer, like "USA Up All Night" or WWF house shows from Madison Square Garden.

It offended my middle-school sense of justice that our family had to go without MTV. If you didn't have MTV, you couldn't see Van Halen videos. If you couldn't see Van Halen videos, you couldn't rhapsodize about them during study hall using multiple phonetic variations on "awesome." As a result, you'd come across more ignorant than the cheerleader who famously claimed that leather doesn't come from cows (because, in her words, "cows are furry"). What, I was supposed to make do with a measly UHF music-video channel?

By the time I got in on the basic-cable action, MTV had started its shift away from videos and into the pretty-person programming in which it now specializes. I've always felt like I got gypped, missing the channel's glory years ... until the other day, when MTV made it up to me and then some with the online debut of the glorious music-video repository MTV Music.

I don't know why MTV didn't unleash this site sooner. As out of character as it might be for today's MTV to do something music-related, the brand remains synonymous with music videos to a large percentage of the Loverboy-loving universe. We can find a large percentage of what MTV Music offers elsewhere; somehow it just feels better to watch the clips on an MTV-stamped offshoot. The brand remains embedded in our collective consciousness.

MTV Music smartly takes its organizational cues from Hulu. The home page couldn't be much cleaner, with a huge "type artist or song" box set dead-center and three blocks of videos (most viewed/top rated/vintage) stacked neatly below. On day two of its existence, the site was largely free of technical hiccups and/or buffering issues, with uniformly excellent audio and video quality.

The selection trumps other video sites by a wide margin, owing to the trove of resources from the Viacom vaults (clips from "Unplugged" and past Video Music Awards ceremonies, as well as from VH1's "Pop-Up Videos" and "Storytellers"). Have a few hours to kill? Try playing Stump The Site. MTV Music performs surprisingly well when challenged with the obscure videos of my youth and fondly remembered one-off performances. What's missing? As best as I can figure, only The Kinks' "Come Dancing," The Art of Noise's "Close to the Edit" and clips from MTV's 10th anniversary special. As for the videos themselves, there are many more slo-mo close-ups of women eating strawberries than I recall.

Sure, I have a few teensy quibbles with the overall experience. A larger video screen would be nice, and maybe the site could alphabetize videos within an artist's listing. But these are negligible complaints. It's hard not to be impressed by how perfect MTV got this thing right right out of the box.

Here's a quibble that might resonate with a different audience: namely, marketers who pay money to have their ads run on the site. While prepping for this story by watching around 17 hours worth of videos, I wasn't delivered a single ad. Not one. Nothing from Volkswagen, Apple, Levi's or "Bat Out of Hell IV: Demon Dogs of Operatic Helltown," all of which would be a fine fit here. Maybe that's by design -- build an audience first, then smack 'em with the marketing. If so, never mind.

I have no issues with the quid pro quo -- I give marketers 30 or 60 seconds of my attention, they give me Chrissie Hynde -- but this break from the pre-roll barrage was quite refreshing. I almost feel guilty. MTV marketeers, if this epistle reaches you, feel free to send me a reel of the Garnier Fructis ads to which I should've been subjected during my "research." I promise to watch them.

My only worry about MTV Music is the one I've long had about Hulu: Once marketers realize just how wonderful an experience the site provides for its audience, they're going to push for a larger presence. At some point, MTV Music won't be able to resist the temptation. Hopefully the site will do everything within its power to maintain the current integrity of the viewer experience.

Until that day, MTV Music will be the ultimate online time-waster for anybody who grew up during the golden era of rock videos. You've been a good worker bee this week -- put down the death-of-media forecasts and treat yourself to a few minutes of MTV Music this afternoon. You'll find yourself in a much giddier mood after you do.
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