Saturday, July 29, 2006

Music TV battles to survive in Internet age


By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - Music television is the endangered species of the pop world, and is learning the hard way that it must adapt to the Internet age, or die.
The "Top of the Pops", the world's longest running weekly music show, will be declared extinct on Sunday when it is broadcast for the last time on BBC.
Two days later MTV, one reason for the demise of Top of the Pops and at the cutting edge of music for so long, begins to reinvent itself with a new interactive TV channel and Web site that will target the online social networking craze.
Young, Internet-literate listeners are not prepared to wait for a weekly digest of chart acts, and the pre-selected programming of 24-hour music channels is also losing its appeal in an age where music choice is greater than ever.
Television must compete with Robbie Williams beaming live images from a concert to fans' mobile phones and iPods playing downloaded tracks.
"I'm afraid to say that Top of the Pops won't get that audience any more," said Dylan White, director of Anglo Plugging which promotes bands to TV producers, referring to people aged between 16 and 30.
"They are eagerly downloading and getting their information far quicker and with a more focussed style than sitting there waiting for a programme to come around once a week on TV," he told Reuters.
White believes that the 42-year-old Top of the Pops can be saved for pre- and early teenagers, but its makers have made clear they do not share his confidence.
In Britain, people spend longer on the Internet than watching television, according to a Google survey, and the audience for Top of the Pops has fallen to around one million viewers compared with a peak of more than 15 million.
Meanwhile, MTV marks its 25th anniversary on August 1 with the launch of community-style Web site followed by a new channel called Flux both of which aim to challenge leading social networking sites like MySpace and Bebo.
"If audiences are spending more time away from the TV it is important for us to make sure we have a really compelling product," said Angel Gambino, vice president of commercial strategy and digital media at MTV Networks UK & Ireland.
"It's critical to our success to make that transition from a broadcasting company to a multi-platform media company," she told Reuters.
Viewers of the new channel will be able to control what is aired on the station and chat with each other live.
There are doubts over whether interactive television is the best way forward for MTV, and some question why it has taken the channel so long to take on the big music Web sites.
But Gambino is confident MTV has created a distinctive product that incorporates the best of the competition and harnesses the channel's powerful position in the pop world.
"I think it is a creative and business challenge for us to increasingly be distinctive in a very crowded market place."
Greg Walsh, head of the online music portal, says traditional leaders in music, like the record labels and MTV, will struggle to keep up with changes in the industry that have given fans seemingly limitless choices.
"I think they will find it very difficult," he said. "Music is being driven by the public now and no longer by the industry. We see sites like MySpace becoming the home of breaking new music and suddenly Bebo launches its own service."


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