Online video makes the radio star.

April 30, 2012

An important landmark in the transition from childhood into adulthood is the point when you realize that not everything that is claimed in pop music lyrics is actually true. The same principle as ‘paper never refusing ink’ applies to lyrics.  This thought struck me as I casually browsed through the JNLR survey on Irish radio listenership.  Contrary to what Trevor Horn and his Buggles pal had claimed in 1979 it transpires that video did not actually kill the radio star.  Rather radio is in rude health and it is the music video that has faced turbulent times over the last three decades.  

Once the bedrock of the cash juggernaut that was music television through the 1980’s and 90’s the music video increasingly became marginalised.  After that golden age the previously enormous production budgets began to shrink and videos became a rarity on the very TV channels that were originally built to house them.  Towards the turn of the millennium viewers had become more discerning.  Pop-culture and the next big thing in music was no longer something dictated by DJ’s, or latterly VJ’s, who pushed the message out to hungry ears.  The audiences would no longer sit through hours of dross music (like their parents who listened under the duvets through the static to Radio Luxembourg) in the hope that something they liked might come up.

The internet had arrived and changed everything.  The push from an all powerful hit-maker was now not the only show in town.  The internet gave people the power to find what they liked rather than sit and be told.  Faced with this fragmentation the video retreated, banished from television, unloved and underfunded.

The music video was in the doldrums, holding out for a hero.  When the hero did arrive in the second half of the last decade it was in the form of broadband and its eager sidekick YouTube.  If music television didn’t want the format any more then suddenly the internet did and the music video entered its second golden age.  This time the content was not programmed by hipsters in MTV but by anyone with an internet connection.  The internet brought democracy to the music video letting people watch, satirise and imitate whatever they wanted (and then as if to prove that democracy is flawed Justin Bieber’s song Baby got 731 million views).   

Another thought that struck me as I contemplated the JNLR’s findings was how music radio stations remain relevant and current if they are no longer setting the agenda – it is their audiences who are discovering the new artists online.  The answer came from a station rep who told of how they saw an artist, with an internet built fanbase, that their DJ’s had never heard of selling out Dublin’s O2 arena.  This led to a panicked rejigging of playlists as the artists was shoehorned into heavy rotation.  Cool now comes from the internet and the successful media outlets, and brands, are those who co-opt it quickest.

So, if in 1979 The Buggles had factored in the advent of the internet and its impact on the music video, (aside from being incredibly wealthy right now), they might have changed their song title to “online streamed video will make the radio star”.  




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