Media for the Online World - I Want My W-E-B

Driving home from work the other day, I had my radio tuned to my favorite classic rock station. To my delight, Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” came on the air. I always associate this song with the video and those early days of MTV. I was just starting college when MTV launched almost 20 years ago, and I remember it was such a novelty. Back then, few people could actually get the cable channel. In fact, “Money for Nothing” parodied the music channel’s ad campaign urging viewers to call their cable operator and say, “I WANT MY MTV!”

The first viewers of MTV were high school/college kids, mostly male, living in homes with cable TV (a typically higher income demo). At first, music videos were a cult thing and far from the mainstream. Quickly, they became an integral part of the music industry, completely turning that business on its head. It made household names out of artists. Some stood the test of time, like Madonna; others quickly faded away after their one heavy-rotation hit, like Men Without Hats. MTV’s effect on popular culture can be seen in fashion, movies, advertising, television, and, of course, music itself. Today, MTV and its fellow music networks are a medium for content distribution and marketing of music.

If you haven’t seen it yet, there is a direct parallel here with the Internet. Replace recording artist, song, MTV, and music video with company, product, Internet, and website and you’ll see the similarities. Because of MTV’s impact, an artist or song’s success is often a reflection on the popularity of a hit video. Likewise, because of the Internet, a company or product’s success often depends on the usability and functionality of its website.

I know Amazon and AOL both want to be the “Madonna” of the Internet age—the market heavyweight who is constantly evolving and changing (often leading the way) to be successful. They don’t want to be one-hit wonders that were cool and popular for a while but is now history, like Pets.com.

I think there are two lessons from MTV’s success story that can benefit the Internet industry. First, part of MTV’s success was its ability to be inventive and take chances. It allowed, and even encouraged, artists to push the envelope of taste, style, technique, and sound in their videos. Websites should do the same with online advertisers. Sites should allow and encourage advertisers to develop new and inventive forms of rich media and find creative placements and sponsorships to showcase these new ads.

Second, MTV was the first source of music videos, but not the last. When it realized that the demand to see other genres of music videos was strong, it launched VH-1. Today, VH-1 is a brand that is as strong as, if not stronger than, MTV. The Internet industry is just on the cusp of doing this with wireless. Wireless devices, such as Palm Pilots and cell phones, are another way to access web content. Even though wireless is just starting to take shape, the potential is great. Advertisers and the Internet industry should push ahead with these initiatives and make it a legitimate marketing tool.

If the Internet industry follows these lessons, I know 20 years from now someone will wax nostalgically about the first time they logged onto Yahoo.com.