Music Television Without Music | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 10.12.2004
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Music Television Without Music

Goodbye visual music culture! Following Viacom's takeover of German music channel Viva, viewers face more trash, comics and fee-based hotlines.


Trash instead of culture

Rapper Alvin Nathaniel Joiner alias Xzibit and his West Coast crew have a show on MTV. Okay, you say to yourself, a musician and a music television station -- that makes sense.

The show, called "Pimp My Ride," helps any auto mechanic's wildest dreams come true. It's all about cars and fixing them up -- to perfection.

Xzibit takes cars fit for the junkyard and equips them alternatively with a dozen televisions, a Water-Pik or maybe a handful of video game panels.

But this has nothing to do with music. It doesn't matter, though. Music television as we knew it is long gone.

Music (non)stop

Next year, things will get worse. The US media group Viacom is taking over Germany's other national music TV station, Viva, and things look bleak for music video lovers in the country.

Viva wird von Viacom übernommen

Viva's headquarters could soon close its doors for good.

The €310 million ($410 million) deal gives Viacom, which already owns MTV, a monopoly in this sector in Germany. Apparently, Viacom plans to seriously slim down the programming.

According to the program schedule for 2005, music will practically be cut out of the MTV program between 1:30 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. Instead of shows supported by editorial teams, there will be even more pre-produced English language trash formats, even more bargain cartoons and clips with fee-based hotlines. Music will be degraded to background noise.

MTV Sendelogo MTV Music Television

MTV has taken the music out of music television

The slogan "Music nonstop," which led MTV for years, has done its duty. Music as a cultural good and music television as its medium are apparently no longer in demand in times of daily quotas, market share and advertising sales. After all, it's got to be profitable.

The worst scenario

Now, Viva's 290 employees face a more than uncertain future. Personnel cuts and a move to Berlin, where MTV Germany is based, are possible options for Viacom in the course of optimizing profits.

"We are hearing various reports on whether Viva will go to Berlin in part or completely," Reinhard Boeck, press spokesman for the North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) government, told DW-WORLD. He said the NRW state secretary for media, Miriam Meckel, had been to the United States prior to Viacom's takeover. "She made our interest clear to keep Viva here," said Boeck.

Viva itself would not confirm the rumors of mass layoffs. Official information is not expected until January or February, when Viacom plans to sign a control agreement with Viva.

Commercially not successful

"Music is the core of MTV," said Catherine Mühlemann. But in her next sentence, the head of MTV Germany quickly added that fashion and lifestyle products are almost just as important. And of course, it's about entertainment, as well. Mühlemann and the programming department find formats like reality TV show "Big Brother" better suited for the entertainment understanding of their target audience.

"The Viacoms of this world don't understand why you should have a cultural show or something that is seemingly commercially unsuccessful," said Charlotte Roche in an interview with the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeinen Sonntagszeitung. Roche is an award-winning Viva star. But despite her ongoing contracts, she last week entered a strike. She therefore pre-empted the end of her show "Fast Forward," which Viva plans to discontinue at the end of the year.

The music television project, which started on Aug. 1, 1981 with the legendary first MTV video of the Buggles' "Video killed the radio star" should perhaps end with a single by the band The Libertines: "I no longer hear the music." And although the song is actually about something totally different, it fits perfectly.

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