On this day, August 1st, in 1981, MTV launched. To commemorate it, Michael Berry talked to Bob Pittman. Today, Pittman is the chairman and CEO of iHeart Media, but in 1981, he was the 27-year-old wunderkind to masterminded the launch of a network that would transform television, and music, forever.
Pittman described a media landscape of only three networks – and in some places, like where he grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, only two – and “there had never been a successful cable network supported by advertising.” The initial name was to be TV1, and then TVM, but finally, on a whim, they decided “MTV” sounded better.
Pittman credited “creating an identity for the NETWORK” as being the most important of its success, noting that the one word which best described it was “cool”. The man who was described by his MTV colleague Tom Freston “the wonder boy of branding” said that the brand of the network defined its success. Whereas consumers were loyal to specific shows, Pittman says that MTV had them following a network instead.
When asked what moments made the biggest difference to the growth of MTV, Pittman replied that MTV gave artists an identity to their fans. He said that prior to that, with album covers largely artistic drawings, fans did not know what their favorite band looked like. The video component gave them an insight into those bands, and their fashion.
The conversation also covered how musicians flocked to MTV and assisted in its expansion, including stories about Sting, Dire Straits, and more. Bob Pittman has great stories about the first video to air on MTV, The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star”. Can he name the second video to air? What is Bob Pittman’s all-time favorite video? Hear the interview to find out.
Photo Credit: Getty Images Gerardo Mora/Stringer