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Trampling on the shoulders of giants

November 5, 2008

A dispatch from guest blogger Scott:

With all the talk of the demise of the music industry, it’s easy to forget that this has all happened before. And, equally importantly, all not happened before. Television heralded the demise of the music industry, as did cassette recorders. And while they unquestionably changed the industry, they didn’t kill it. As debcha has noted, for better or for worse, the industry will continue to find ways to change.

Last week, MTV began putting its catalogue of videos online. As the article rightly notes, most of this stuff is on YouTube, so it remains to be seen whether people will actually make use of the site, but I think that ignores two factors, one good and one bad. First the bad: MTV actually contracted, at some point, to use these videos in some context. And, presumably, their lawyers believe they still have the right to use them in this way. They probably do – I don’t know. YouTube leaves the stuff up on a “so long as nobody complains” basis. Now that there’s an “official” and “licensed” Internet presence of this material, I’d expect to see an increase in complaints.

But second, YouTube functionality is great if you either a) know what you’re looking for; or b) don’t really care that much what you see. It’s not well designed for browsing or separating music video from poorly filmed concert footage – you can do it, but it’s easy to get swamped in a deluge of “not really what I wanted”. MTV’s site is better suited to wandering the aisles and stumbling across things you’d never seen or forgotten about. So, whether I want a combination of horror movies and newsreel, or puppets, or bands that it’s hard to imagine being talked about on MTV, I know I’m more likely to discover it here than on YouTube. On the down side, they don’t yet have XTC’s The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead, one of the very few videos I can actually remember watching on MTV, but then YouTube only has the UK video, not the one I remember. And the Crash Test Dummies cover just doesn’t fill that void. Sorry, Canada.

But this Web site just serves as a reminder that MTV has seen better days and that changing an industry is sometimes better for the industry than it is for the agent of change.

Image: Take your pick! by Flickr user hisham_hm, reposted here under its Creative Commons license.

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