MTV turns 40 this year. Give or take, half of Americans have only lived in a time when MTV existed. Just under a third were born since the Internet became mainstream roughly 25 years ago. These are just a couple benchmarks on the gradient of change that “entertainment” has undergone.
In 2019, pervasive media was a theory. In 2020, the “pervasive” idea became persuasive as it accelerated into undeniable reality. Today we have multiple screens—and screenless voice assistants—always mediating our work, our entertainment, our social lives, our classrooms and our doctor’s visits. We’re not going back, we’re pushing forward, into the metaverse.
In this new reality, creators, platforms, companies, brands and even our cars compete for the audience’s attention. Entertainment is currency, converted into cash as we buy goods through social media, or into “Robux,” the money of gaming platform Roblox, and spent on virtual sneakers for our avatars. Roblox, which just went public, launched in 2004, which means that today’s developers on the platform likely grew up there.
The lines have all blurred. How do you separate entertainment from games or commercials? Do you even try?
Forty years on, video didn’t kill the radio star as the first video that MTV aired posited. Radio and voice entertainment continue to evolve. Video did create video stars, now spread over countless streaming platforms. “YouTuber” is a popular career ambition now, at least in my house. It’s also developed by super creators in committed relationships to the big streaming platforms.
Has it all been disrupted, in the end? Will all the new streaming services just lead us back to a bundled model like cable? Will it matter if we’re staring at a TV, a phone, a laptop or even the inside of a VR headset or glasses if we’re still just staring at a screen?
You will read about these topics here. But we also think back to another early MTV success, Dire Straits. We suspect that there will always be a core audience, shaking their heads at the YouTube, the TikTokers, the Twitch streamers and the Instagram influencers. The curmudgeons will mutter to themselves that the billion plays of “unboxing” videos mean they’re just getting their money for nothing.