Music as Media 4: MTV and Cool

Music as Media 4: MTV and Cool

Author: Amee Wittbrodt
  • Understand, analyze, evaluate, and use different types of print, digital, and multimodal media.
  • Critically analyze information found in electronic, print, and mass media and use a variety of these sources.
  • Investigate the definition of cool.
  • Define key vocabulary and gain an understanding of how mass media markets to young people.

This packet is 4th in a series about music as media.

This packet presents some background information on MTV and explores the notion that media defines "cool." Students will watch the first music video shown on MTV and then watch Chapter 3, "The MTV Machine" by Frontline. To help define several terms, students will then read excerpts from three articles and answer the discussion questions that follow.

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Video Killed the Radio Star

MTV Background

Over seventy percent of American teenagers watch MTV each week. On average, American teenagers watch MTV over six hours each week. MTV first began broadcasting on August 1, 1981. Its first video was, appropriately, “Video Killed the Radio Star” by a group called the Buggles. MTV is is now owned by Viacom, which also owns CBS, UPN, BET, Paramount Pictures, Showtime, and Blockbuster Video. MTV wants teenagers to watch its programming so that advertisers will buy advertising time on MTV—advertisers who are trying to sell things to teenagers. This includes recording companies, clothing and shoe companies, snack food makers, and so on.

Some people say that most of MTV’s programs are basically advertisements. They argue that music videos are really advertisements for recordings, and shows like “TRL” largely promote musical acts and their recordings. Nonmusic shows such as “Cribs” also promote musical acts, and they encourage viewers to want many of the things that money can buy. Shows that feature fashion are, of course, providing advertising for the companies that make the clothes that are featured.

To find out what teenagers want to watch, MTV does lots of research on trends among teenagers and contracts with other companies who do this type of research. Some people call this trend research “cool hunting,” because the effort here is to figure out what teenagers think is cool. One of those companies is Youth Intelligence (YI). This firm describes itself at its web site: “Youth Intelligence focuses on understanding Generations Y and X (12-35 year olds). These consumers are creating and shaping trends in today’s culture.” The company uses focus groups, which are small groups of people who are asked to express their opinions and feelings about certain topics. The company also does person-on-the-street surveys and visits teenagers’ homes. Youth Intelligence and similar firms then sell the information they gather to MTV and companies that advertise on MTV, such as Nike and Gatorade.

The MTV Machine

 "The MTV Machine" 

Frontline Video- The Merchants of Cool

Click on Chapter 3

The Quest for Cool

This document defines the following terms: alpha consumer, tweens, viral marketing, and alpha girl.

Full Screen

Discussion Questions

  1. T/F? Overall, MTV hasn't been very successful.
  2. T/F? It is safe to say that everything on MTV is an ad.
  3. T/F? MTV is owned by the same media giant that also owns CBS and Paramount Pictures, Viacom.
  4. T/F? To find out what teenagers want to watch, MTV uses "cool hunting."
  5. T/F? Generations Y and X are creating and shaping trends in today's culture.
  6. T/F? Alpha consumers don't really make a big difference in whether a product builds a loyal consumer base or disappears from the marketplace in a short time.
  7. T/F? According to an article from above, when cool people start talking, eating, dressing, or acting in a certain way, noncool people will follow them.
  8. Choose the term that goes with the definition- Researching trends among teenagers to figure out what teenagers think is cool.
  9. Choose the term that goes with the definition- The most desirable sectors of the population that are known to spend a lot, especially on luxury items like trendy clothing and electronics.
  10. Choose the term that goes with the definition- If the alpha girl likes a product, she tells two friends, and they tell two friends, and they tell two friends. It's a twist on old fashioned word of mouth.
  11. Choose the term that goes with the definition- Youth between the ages of 8-12 who are too old to be considered a child and too young to be a teenager.
  12. Do you think that it is a good or bad thing that companies try to fugure out what you are interested in? Explain.
  13. Some people say that cool hunters do not really care about teenagers, that they just want to figure our how to make more money from teenagers' buying choices. Do you agree or disagree? Explain.
  14. "Tween girls are especially prized, Smith points out, because they spend more money, and love to talk. One method used by marketers involves slumber parties. It's part of is a multi-million dollar business strategy that relies on 8-year-old Danielle Koenig, the party's hostess. But more importantly, she is the alpha, or peer influencer, in her group."  Explain how this marketing strategy works and how it involves Danielle.
  15. What does the word cool mean to our society? Explain.
  16. What does it mean to you? Explain.
  17. Is being cool important to you? Why or why not?
  18. Will people ever not want to strive to be cool? Explain.
  19. Do popular TV stations like MTV define cool? Explain.