Even in a pandemic, the show must go on.

MTV is hosting their annual Video Music Awards on Sunday, August 30th.

We all know that the best part of the VMAs are the performances. This year Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, The Weekend, BTS, and CNCO are just a few acts to take the stage.

But to practice social distancing, all performances will be held outdoors with “limited or no audiences”… yikes.

Truth be told, the VMAs’ audience has been dwindling for years.

There are two things that can explain their consistent ratings decline:

1. If Britney Spears isn’t performing, there’s really no point in watching.

 

2. MTV deviated from their original brand purpose.

 

The Early Days of MTV

MTV officially launched as a channel on August 1, 1981, which was the same year as the first launch of the space shuttle, Columbia. This explains the significance of the moon man awards they hand out at the VMAs.

In their initial broadcast, MTV shared a what can be considered brand manifesto for the channel. 

You can watch it here. You might want to skip to the 1:50 mark:

The original slogan of the channel was “You’ll never look at music the same way again”.

And through the ‘80s and ‘90s, MTV delivered on their promise to bring more music, through video, to audiences. They had shows like Yo! MTV Raps, TRL, Headbanger’s Ball, and Making the Video, mixed in among their music video marathons.

But by the early 2000s, MTV’s programming strayed away from music (although they were still airing Making the Band — the inspiration for my podcast).

Their show line-up was mostly original reality TV shows like Laguna Beach, 16 and Pregnant, Room Raiders, and even Jackass.

By 2010, MTV officially dropped “music television” from their logo altogether.

So for at least the past decade, MTV admittedly hasn’t been about music except for one night of the year: the Video Music Awards.

But If MTV doesn’t care about music, why should their audience?

This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Stephen Covey, author of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:

“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”


When I was a kid, MTV’s “main thing” was music. Their programming fueled my passion for it, and I couldn’t get enough. I was glued to the TV. Their programming added more context to the music I loved. I looked forward to exclusive interviews, behind-the-scenes sneak peeks, and concert specials.

But now, if I want to learn about music, I’m on my own. Yes, social media has given us access to our favorite musicians, but as a network, MTV isn’t contributing to the conversation or adding any value.

That’s the problem. They’ve given up on music, which doesn’t set the right example for their audience.


If you want your audience to care about something, you have to be the thing you want them to care about. That means 365 days a year… not just one night for an awards show.

This applies to MTV and pretty much any organization.

I think about this a lot in the non-profit world. I see so many non-profits make their messaging about their sponsors, volunteers, and donors. They profusely thank them and feature them on every one of their channels.

Of course, these groups are important. They provide necessary funding and assistance to keep these organizations going.

But you want your audience to care about the people (or animals!) you serve. Tell THEIR stories. This happens to be the better approach to create more donors, sponsors, volunteers, and funding.

Your supporters want to know how their donations or hard work are impacting people’s lives. THIS is what will open their hearts and wallets going forward.

Stick to the thing you want to be known for, and you’ll hold your audience’s attention.

I know… pursuing a shiny new opportunity can be tempting. You may feel pressure to innovate or switch things up, like MTV did once they got a taste of reality TV.

But stay the course. Specialize, niche down, and go all-in on what you do best. And if you must try something new, make sure it reflects who you are as a brand.

 

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