WHEN THE MUSIC’S OVER: Will MTV be over following the VMAs on Aug. 30? The show will be the swan song of the engaging, immensely popular Van Toffler, and the smart money is on a ratings bonanza following poor ratings in 2014, as the 28-year veteran pulls out all the stops. Naming Miley Cyrus as host was a shrewd move, and Toffler has loaded the show with major draws. Toffler’s imminent exit stage right means MTV will have severed its last link to the channel’s years of greatness. In whose hands is the franchise now, and what will he or she do next to re-establish the brand? MTVN is now among corporate executive Doug Herzog’s numerous responsibilities, and digital specialist Erik Flannigan is running the day-to-day, while the highly respected music execs Amy Doyle and Sandy Alouete are the last vestige of MTV’s former focus. What business will MTVN be in moving forward? What, then, was the tipping point in MTV’s decline? According to those in the know, it was the abdication of the music space at the dawn of the digital age resulting from the Redstonian practice of not sharing revenues with rights holders.
All things run their course, but MTV’s fall from relevance is particularly striking in consideration of the revolutionary and monumental role it played in music-business history. Launched on Aug. 1, 1981, with Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star” the first video aired, the fledgling cable network soon became a huge factor in bringing the record business out of a tailspin behind the visionary leadership of John Lack, Bob Pittman, Tom Freston and John Sykes. Following Lack’s departure, Pittman turned the channel around, initially by forcing cable operators to pay up. That shrewd move coincided with the release of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” the breakthrough single from the soon-to-be-massive Thriller, initiating MTV’s transformation into what was in essence America’s first national audiovisual radio station. Madonna, the next MTV-born superstar, was the prime attraction at the inaugural Video Music Awards in 1984.
In 1986, Freston took over as CEO—with original staffer Judy McGrath as his chief lieutenant and consiglieri—following Pittman’s departure. On Freston and McGrath’s watch, MTV Networks expanded to include CMT and MTV2, as well as creating the iconic shows 120 Minutes, MTV Unplugged and VH1’s Behind the Music. After Freston’s ouster at the hands of Viacom ruler Sumner Redstone in 2006, McGrath and Toffler were the last links to MTV’s storied past. McGrath left in 2011, and Toffler’s final VMAs will symbolically stand as the grace note for an iconic brand that began life 34 years ago as Music Television.
LABEL ACTION: Seven months into 2015, the marketshare dominance of Lucian Grainge’s UMG continues in both the U.K. and the U.S., where the mighty music group has a jaw-dropping 42.9% in frontline share and 39% in TEA. Universal is loaded with rainmaking executive talent and superstar artists, and the aggressive Grainge will make sure that every member of his team keeps the pedal to the metal.
Thanks to a contractual option known as “label of choice,” U.K.-inked UMG acts now have the ability to determine what U.S. label they will go with, and vice versa, but until Disclosure’s recent move from Interscope to Capitol, no British-signed act had switched its American label after releasing an album. The switch occurred because Disclosure’s managers, Sam Evitt and Jack Street of Mansion Artists, had enormous success on Capitol with fellow client Sam Smith, and they felt bringing Disclosure under the Capitol umbrella as well was a natural transition—even more so considering that Smith got his first major exposure as the featured vocalist of Disclosure’s hit “Latch.” Fittingly, he sings on “Omen,” the latest single from their 9/25 sophomore album, Caracal. Capitol’s mission will be to break Caracal in the U.S., as Darcus Beese’s Island U.K. accomplished with their 2013 debut album. Beese is having another memorable year, maximizing a roster that balances hitmaking veterans including U2, Florence + the Machine, Mumford & Sons, John Newman and Will Young with such potent relative newcomers as Hozier, Catfish and the Bottlemen and Jack Garratt. Island also has the Amy Winehouse catalog, which has been reignited by the hit feature documentary.
Enrique Iglesias’ just-inked deal with Sony Music Latin and RCA ends months of speculation about the Latin star’s next move, as execs at both Sony and Monte Lipman’s Republic, Iglesias’ former home, firmly believed they had him locked up.
STREAM LINES: Bound by NDAs and under threats of waterboarding but unable to contain their excitement, label sources reveal that Apple Music has added 10m users after just four weeks, and that Robert Kondrk has pushing Cupertino to release information on the service’s rapid growth in streaming, which it has just agreed to do. One of the primary beneficiaries of this encouraging trend is Epic’s Future, this week’s chart-topper and the hottest rapper of the moment, who registered 10m+ streams on Apple Music in the U.S. alone last week, not far below the 14m+ on Spotify.
Tidal has gone eerily quiet of late, apart from statements of support from Nicki Minaj and Madonna, and the word is that Jay Z is looking to get out. This ambitious undertaking has cost him millions of his own money because he never got the expected funding, he still hasn’t paid the licensing fees to the rights holders and no one is likely to throw him a life preserver and bail him out, so he has little choice at this point except to stop the bleeding. What will his exit strategy look like? Interesting to note that it’s not Apple, Sony, UMG or WMG that could be putting the final nail in the Tidal coffin, but Cash Money’s Slim and Baby Williams, with their tortious-interference suit against the service for its recent exclusive with alienated label artist Lil Wayne.
NAMES IN THE RUMOR MILL: Bob Pittman, Tom Freston, Judy McGrath, John Sykes and Les Garland.
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