MTV’s giant steps

A look at the cabler's history

MTV’s iconic moments are well known. But here are 10 of the more notable business developments in cabler’s 25-year history:

The brainchild of then-producer Bob Pittman, the music-themed Sight & Sound channel bows on Columbus, Ohio’s Qube, an ahead-of-its-time 30-channel interactive cable system operated jointly by Warner Communications and American Express. On Aug. 1, 1981, Sight & Sound morphs into national channel MTV, launching from a temporary New Jersey studio.

His channel languishing on just a few cable systems — with only a few million subscribers — Pittman turns to legendary ad man George Lois. Almost on the fly, Louis comes up with an iconic campaign featuring the biggest names in music — Mick Jagger among them — instructing viewers to call their cable operators with the demand, “I want my MTV.”

With Qube having lost $30 million since launch, Warner buys out AmEx’s share in the Warner AmEx Satellite Entertainment Co. Over the next two years, Warner Cable merges channels including MTV, Nickelodeon and its newly launched VH1 under one group, MTV Networks, then sells the property to the pre-Sumner Redstone Viacom in two separate transactions totaling $870 million.

MTV launches its first international channel, MTV Europe, in Amsterdam. Bill Roedy joins the channel a short time later. Under Roedy, the MTV brand — and other MTV Networks properties including Nick and VH1 — will proliferate not only throughout Europe, but all over Asia and Latin America and even into Africa.

MTV begins to move away from musicvids in earnest with the introduction of “Liquid Television.” The collection of animated shorts includes “Aeon Flux” and “Beavis and Butt-head,” properties the network eventually will spin into hit toon series and features.

MTV gives birth to the reality television boom with launch of “The Real World.” Its original drama unfolding in a SoHo apartment, the Bunim/Murray-produced skein is coming off a 17th season, this one based in Key West, Fla., that produces some of its best ratings ever. It’s been renewed for an 18th go-around, to be set in Denver this fall.

Transitioning into lifestyle programming, MTV spins off the musicvid-focused M2 on its 15th birthday (the channel is later relaunched as MTV2). Meanwhile, MTV Prods. — now known as MTV Films — launches. Initial theatrical bows include the Jerry O’Connell vehicle “Joe’s Apartment” and “Beavis and Butt-head Do America,” which grosses $20 million out of the gate, then a record for a December release.

The channel further pioneers the reality TV frontier, moving into celebrity voyeurism with the launch of “The Osbournes,” which draws a broadcastlike 8 million viewers at its peak and wins an Emmy. Other celeb reality hits, including “Nick and Jessica: Newlyweds,” follow.

In an effort to keep up with the fast-moving media consumption habits of the 12-34 demo, MTV embarks on a digital shopping spree, paying more than $500 million to gobble up second-tier broadband assets including kiddie community Neopets, viral video site iFilm and vidgame portal X-Fire.

As MTV transitions its content to broadband and beyond — the Video Music Awards also will be shown on its Overdrive online network tonight — its cable empire spans 442 million households across more than 170 territories worldwide.

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