In a move that could signal the unraveling of MTV’s stranglehold on the broadcasting of musicvideos, a consortium of record labels is discussing the formation of its own musicvideo service.
Sony Music and Warner Music Group have joined forces, exploring what could be the first significant competitor to the 10-year-old music channel. EMI Music and Polygram are also said to be involved in the talks.
The first phase of the launch of the new channel, according to sources, would be the creation of several foreign music channels, local challengers to MTV’s recent forays into the Asian and European markets.
A U.S. launch would come in tandem with the formation of the so-called information superhighway, when cable systems increase their channel capacity to include on-demand services and interactivity.
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The new channel would sport some of those features. In addition to playing videos, it may include the capability for viewers to order merchandise and music of the artists featured on the system.
Previous marriages between a delivery system and a product supplier include the recently announced venture between Tele-Communications Inc., the nation’s largest cable programming supplier, and Bertelsmann Music Group, one of the big six music companies.
But the Sony-Time Warner deal is far more ambitious and could cost more than $ 200 million to get under way, as the pair would have to tap into a delivery system or create their own in order to become a viable alternative to the ensconced MTV.
MTV reaches close to 60 mil-lion households in the U.S. and a similar number in Europe. Although it also has its sister entity VH-1, the channel has announced plans to launch three companion services that ostensibly would divide music videos by their genres.
“MTV has such a hold on videos, they alter videos, set all kinds of ground rules for airing, it gets a little ridiculous sometimes,” said a label VP responsible for music video programming. “A new outlet is definitely needed.”
Those concerns could result in the labels involved in the deal airing its artists first, before allowing them to be added to MTV.
Conversely, MTV could refuse to air videos that have appearedelsewhere first, sparking a controversy like the one between Black Entertainment Television and MTV over which channel would get the exclusive airing of particular videos.
Labels withholding product is about the only concern that execs at MTV — who say they are familiar with the talks between Sony and Warner — have about the proposed new venture.
MTV Networks president Tom Freston has said MTV welcomes the competition.
Sony and Time Warner, who already are teamed in several direct response ventures, such as the mail order Columbia House record club, are said to be testing the music channel waters through Viva, an existing service in Germany that went on the air last month after years on the drawing board.
Sony Music and Warner Music Group spokesmen refused comment.