MTV Drops the Ball

"American Idol" and YouTube put new twists on the old Music Television formula, while the former video powerhouse bounces Snooki on us

While MTV prepares to drop Snooki in a ball on New Years Eve, "American Idol" and YouTube are putting new twists on the old-school Music Television playbook – possibly helping usher in a new era in pop music consumption.

"American Idol" producers, hoping for a 10th season revival with two new judges, reportedly will require contestants to shoot music videos – once the staple of MTV, which marks its 30th anniversary next year. And the final 12 competitors, according to The Hollywood Reporter, are going to bunk together in a house in the Hollywood Hills.

It wasn't immediately clear whether the house would be filled with cameras. But the set up sounds a lot like "The Real World," the once-fascinating MTV show that spawned a mutant swarm of Reality TV nonsense over the last two decades, most notably "Jersey Shore."

Perhaps far more significantly, YouTube this week announced a competition/promotion aimed at drawing even more young people via music videos – a move that could position the site as the MTV of the Internet Age.

YouTube is offering points and prizes to fans who subscribe to channels of performers like Rihanna, Shakira and Justin Bieber. Points also can be accumulated by tweeting or posting links about favorite performers’ channels on Facebook.

The singer who gets the most new subscribers wins the two-month “My YouTube” competition. But the biggest victor may be YouTube, which gets young, potential viewers for life.

Meanwhile, "American Idol" reportedly is upping its social media efforts by allowing the Top 12 contestants to tweet – and by possibly adding online voting. The Internet parallel life has worked well for “Idol” and its fictional Fox cousin "Glee," which has a strong web of Gleeks who snap up the songs on iTunes the moment the latest episode ends.

MTV, with its big anniversary approaching, largely has abdicated the original music video mission, with the battle cry morphing from “I Want My MTV!” to the mindless fist-pumping of Snooki and friends. The strategy seems to be working for Viacom, MTV’s parent company, which exceeded analysts’ profit estimates in the most recent quarter, partly on the strength of “Jersey Shore,” Bloomberg reported.

The popular music business is in disarray amid the digital revolution, and where it ends up is anybody’s bet. But notice must be taken when the video for Bieber's earworm of a hit "Baby" has logged more than 400 million hits on YouTube.

YouTube executives are smart in trying to make the site a go-to source for music videos, whether it's the newest pop star offering, silly viral hits like the bra Cup Size Choir version of “Deck the Halls” (borderline NSFW) or classical composer Eric Whitacre’s bid to assemble a 900-member virtual chorus by New Years Eve.

As Whitacre combs through the final entries, Snooki, the new symbol of MTV, will be preparing to begin 2011 with a bounce as we're left to wonder who dropped the ball.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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