When the joint venture between Warner Communications and American Express announced their intention to launch a 24-hour music channel devoted to music videos and music news, the concept seemed ludicrous. “Would people sit at home to watch this stuff?” wondered Wall Street and cable operators, among others.
Despite the naysayers, MTV: Music Television – as it was known then – flipped the switch on August 1, 1981. It was a struggle, though, to convince cable operators to carry the fledgling service.
MTV’s earliest promotional campaign was designed to get the network distributed and then to gain viewers once the channel was added to a cable system’s lineup. Thus “I Want My MTV” was born. This mishmash spot featured the most visually arresting artists and clips of the day: Talking Heads’ “Once In A Lifetime,” Pat Benatar’s “You Better Run,” Hall & Oates’ “Private Eyes,” the Police’s “Every Little Thing,” the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up” and others. The spot ends with the slogan “You’ll never look at music the same way again.”
Over the next few years, the campaign evolved as the network execs were able to get their new A-List pals like Pete Townshend, David Bowie, Cyndi Lauper, Boy George and Billy Idol to utter the four words.
And then in 1985, Dire Straits’ Brothers In Arms album included the song “Money For Nothing” that featured Sting on vocals singing “I Want My MTV.” Two of the biggest acts in the business were acknowledging how huge and influential the network had become in such a short time.
In four years, the network had completely transformed the music business in the way artists and music was presented to the public. The question “Would people sit at home to watch this stuff?” was answered with a resounding “Yes.”
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