Who really killed the video star?

It took 18 years for MTV to air 1 million videos. How long will the next million take? We do the math.

Published March 1, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

It's beyond clichi to point out that MTV, the Music Television Network, doesn't play many music videos anymore. Instead, the lineup is filled with reality-based shows, like the marquee series "The Real World," and fictional programs, like the animated "Daria." That said, it's still seemed a little shocking that on Saturday the network actually made it to its millionth video.

Conveniently enough, the first video MTV ever played, on Aug. 1, 1981, was also its millionth: the Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star." MTV aired it, naturally, with a whole lot of fanfare. Host and MTV VJ kingpin Carson Daly compared the event to the moon landing and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Really.

The all-video programming was rare for a Saturday afternoon and evening, which would usually be filled with "Road Rules" marathons or "The Tom Green Show" repeats. Which brings up an interesting question, considering how few videos have aired in the past few years -- heck, decade: Just how did MTV get to the million mark in only 18-and-a-half years?

Well, for starters, MTV doesn't really play start-to-finish videos anymore. Instead, they play pieces of videos, like those that run on "Total Request Live." The daily countdown program, of course, isn't about performance, or even videos. Instead, it clips the videos short to keep the show moving and uses text and overdub to create an environment of total sensory overload.

MTV did the same thing during the millionth video countdown. Michael Jackson's 14-minute "Thriller," for example, ran at seven minutes. Worse, videos were almost always interrupted to allow for a talking head to comment. It got so absurd that even the accommodating Daly couldn't let it continue without commenting: After Britney Spears talked about dancing to Madonna's "Like a Virgin" with her friends, he pointed out that she was 3 when the video was released.

But let's get back to the idea that MTV is just now hitting 1 million. Here's a little rough math. Rounding MTV's 18-and-a-half years on the air down to 18 equals 6,570 days. 6,570 days is 9,460,800 minutes, assuming MTV broadcasts all 1,440 minutes each day.

Stick with me. Assuming each video is three minutes long, MTV could have played 3,153,600 videos in that time. Let's take out a quarter for commercials (not a lot during the early days) and station breaks. The new number: 2,365,200. That means the station had the time to play more than twice the number of videos.

Now, let's do the math in reverse, starting with that million mark. Most of the reality shows and other programs have choked the station for less than one-half of the total years. We'll say that two-thirds of those million videos aired in the first nine years. That means that 333,334 aired over the last nine.

Here we go again. Nine years breaks down to 3,285 days. That means that MTV has played roughly 102 videos per day. Divide that number by 24 hours. The new figure means that MTV has been playing about four and one quarter videos an hour for the past nine years. And, as noted, most of those don't even play in full.

Just think, in about 30 years, MTV can celebrate its 2 millionth video. I wonder what they'll play.

By Andy Dehnart

Andy Dehnart is a writer living in Chicago.

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