MTV removed the words “music television” from its logo earlier this year, but with the not-so-sudden surge in the popularity of music videos (thanks in no small part to YouTube), it’s getting back in the music game. Of course, the Jersey Shore era of the network looks nothing like the early days of nonstop tunes, but MTV has always thrived on the challenges of innovation.
When it comes to making sure its viewers can sing along while simultaneously cringing to the latest “smoosh room” escapades, that task is bestowed upon Amy Doyle, MTV’s executive vice president of music and talent, who’s rolling out a slew of artist-curated programming over the next few weeks, including documentaries by Nicki Minaj (called My Time Now, premiering Nov. 28) and Kid Rock (Kid Rock: Born Free) along with world premieres of videos by My Chemical Romance ("Sing" on Nov. 18) and Bruno Mars ("Grenade" on the 19th). THR spoke with Doyle about the network’s plans moving forward.
THR: Because MTV is so much about reality shows these days, it seems like you would have the hardest job …
Amy Doyle: It's actually easier, believe it or not, because we have so many more places to express music across all of our screens. I've been at MTV more than 10 years now and the opportunities are really endless for an artist. It's just different than what it was before, but it's been interesting to carve out and develop new ways to express music that are not necessarily what people have always expected.
THR: Having been there so long, does the prioritization of music at the network ebb and flow?
Doyle: It really doesn't. There's always a steady stream of music on MTV, what changes is how it gets expressed. Because we've always had opportunities to support artists in really meaningful ways, and the fact that we can harness all of our screens -- MTV, MTV2, MTVU, MTV.com, our mobile platform -- it helps us put together really holistic plans around the artists that we're getting behind. When we get into a conversation with an artist, it's not for a one-off. In other words, it's not just about the video they've got coming out, it's about putting together a global video premiere plan on both TV and online, then we make sure we can get an interview that can be exclusive and on-demand to that artist's fans, then let's talk about a live stream ... whatever we can we do to engage fans while that's happening so they can interact in real time with the artist.
THR: Where does viewership stand for the assorted screens?
Doyle: Next to MTV would be MTV2, which is in 77 million homes. MTV Hits, which is very pop-oriented, that's in 30 million homes. We have MTV Jams which is our hip-hop and R&B channel and that’s somewhere between 22 and 25 million homes. And then MTVU, which has more of an indie spirit musically but is 24/7 music, is on 750 college campuses reaching somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 million college students a week. All those channels have music is at their core.
THR: Van Toffler, president of MTV Networks Music Group, was quoted as saying that you would regularly “beat down” execs at the network in your fight for more music on the channel. Is it a battle?
Doyle: I think I’ve beat them down at this point. [laughs] There were days when it was a fight but right now I have to say, It's really great to be in music and at MTV right now. Being able to do things like the Nicki Minaj and Kid Rock documentaries, we have four exclusive premieres next week [B.O.B., Bruno Mars, MCR and Disturbed], Rihanna is performing on The Seven, the first musical guest on that show.
THR: One thing MTV has always excelled at is music placements, have the labels seen a direct correlation between a song played on one of the network’s show and sales?
Doyle: They absolutely see the impact. It's such a transparent world that we're living in right now. So literally a well-placed cue in Jersey Shore can affect the iTunes chart in less than 24 hours. The labels, the artists’ managers, they're all seeing the impact on numbers in real time. Take Florence and the Machine at the VMAs this year. The show wasn’t even over yet but after her performance, iTunes was blowing up. It happened that instantaneously.
THR: Although it must be said that at this year’s VMAs there seemed to be a disconnect in awarding videos that are only seen on the channel during the early morning hours, or not at all. Does that criticism concern you?
Doyle: No. It would if they weren't still coming to us to premiere their videos, but they are because even though they have so many choices now, they’re still coming to us because they want that primetime premiere. They understand that their video premiering right after Jersey Shore gets more eyeballs than what used to be considered a typical video rotation. So I would be concerned if they weren't still showing up but that's not the case. Also, I think it’s key to understand who the MTV audience is now and how they define music. They don't just define it by music video. They define their experience by watching an interview or a live performance or they're paying attention to the music they're hearing within our shows. We know that because they're then downloading and buying it. So we don't really get the, “Where's the music videos?,” comment by this generation because they know they're everywhere, on demand and there any time that they want to watch them.
THR: Did Lady Gaga single-handedly resurrect the music video as an art form?
Doyle: I think she shined the spotlight on the art form again. She inspired artists to really take creative control because when they do -- they don't leave it in the hands of someone else, it's their vision. And hopefully they’re confident that their vision is going to be a really compelling piece of art that music fans are going to watch. And I’ve noticed more artists getting hands-on, if not being the sole creative driver, of their videos. When you think about 30 Seconds to Mars and Jared Leto -- it's all his vision: he directs them, he edits them, it’s all him. And the end result is this beautiful music video. So what's exciting is that you have everyone from Lady Gaga to Kanye West coming at it from a different perspective, like Kanye creating a mini-film that’s exposing not just one song, but three songs.
THR: Is Nicki Minaj the second coming of Gaga?
Doyle: She's got it all. We've had our eye on her for well over a year, and it's really exciting to be able to do this documentary. When we met her, we started seeing the connection she was making with music fans and that she had this big personality. So we really wanted to do something big and exciting with her that also shows people a side they haven't seen yet. She does live her life out loud. She's very active online. She's very connected to her fans and she gave us unprecedented access. [The documentary] is much deeper than Diary, which was sort of a day in the life of an artist. We've been with Nicki for the last three months of her life. She seems fearless and outspoken, to your earlier point about Gaga, and not afraid to be who she is. That was really refreshing to us. She didn't seem guarded, she didn't seem like she was trying to be someone she isn't. And that was when we fell in love with her.
THR: What does it take to get a video banned these days?
Doyle: We haven't done that in a long time. I don't know.
THR: Has the process gotten more lax over the years?
Doyle: I think it moves with culture. And the landscape of what people can see both on the Internet and on cable television has allowed us to always have an open conversation about what's appropriate and what isn't. There's about a dozen of us that screen and discuss and talk about all of the music videos coming in every week.
THR: You were a DJ in Detroit just as Kid Rock was breaking, do you and Bob go back?
Doyle: We do go back, and let’s just say he’s a lot of fun.
THR: His new album, Born Free, comes out today. Would you believe that 10 years later Kid Rock is just as relevant?
Doyle: I do believe it, because he's the whole package. He had the star power, he had the musical chops, he knows when a sound, a movement, or a trend is over and when to start to evolve. He's done that so successfully.