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MTV: Out of the Cradle, Endlessly Rocking

VP of music and talent to speak at COM tonight

Amy Doyle (COM’92) was sitting in a classroom at the College of Communication 15 years ago, listening to professors explain how professional video was produced out in the real world. These days, as MTV’s senior vice president of music and talent, she’s sitting in the offices of a television network that reaches 480 million households, telling her peers that they should pay more attention to artists like Death Cab for Cutie. On Monday, March 5, Doyle is coming back to COM to speak. The event, presented by WTBU, is at 9 p.m. in Room 101 and is open to all BU students and faculty.

BU Today talked to Doyle about her job and about MTV — where it has been and where it is going.

BU Today: MTV is now 26 years old. Is it grown up yet? 
Have you seen Jackass? There’s a reason that show still has a place on MTV — we’ll never grow up.
How has the content changed since 1981?
In 1981, MTV only played music videos. Over time the channel has evolved to become a broader lifestyle channel that super-serves young people and their appetite for music, shows, and news that relates to them.
How has the technology that delivers the content changed?
Our viewers used to be able to experience MTV only on linear television through a lean-back experience. Today we can deliver our content on demand, digitally, virtually, and wirelessly, allowing our audience to interact with our content in ways they never used to be able to.
How does MTV stay in front of new technology?
It’s absolutely critical that we continue to embrace the new technologies that our audience utilizes and evolve our content to fit those technologies. We’re developing more ways to interact with our audience every day, and our goal for the content we create is to make it nimble enough to work on every new platform. We’re constantly seeking new ways for our audience to interact with our content — which is how we’ll stay in front of new trends, or at the very least, on top of them. For example, virtual worlds are emerging as a new, interactive way for our audience to immerse themselves in virtual realities. We just launched a virtual Lower East Side, where our audience can attend concerts and mingle with artists.
What part of your job do you enjoy the most?
Going to concerts. I never imagined that it would be a mandatory part of my “job” to go see live music of all genres. It also doesn’t suck that our workday starts at 10 a.m.! 
What part do you dislike the most?
We have a running joke that the “M” in MTV stands for meetings. I attend way too many meetings!
How have your personal efforts changed MTV?
I’ve put a lot of effort into getting managers and labels to see the impact of exposure for their artists in nontraditional ways across the MTV brands — for example, getting artists involved in writing theme songs for some of our shows, getting artists involved in promo campaigns or surprising and teaching a class at an mtvU-affiliated school. There are so many ways to break and expose artists beyond music video play and I’ve championed those opportunities to a point where labels, managers, and artists are embracing them.
For years we’ve been hearing about “convergence,” a technological reverse big bang in which all media come together. Is that really happening?
To a certain degree, yes, but we’ve only scratched the surface. We’ve noticed our audience watching full episodes of concerts or shows by going to mtv.com and not waiting for it to come on TV. They’ll watch a show online while they’re IM-ing with their friends. Does that mean they’re abandoning their TVs? No, in fact, we’ve found that many people have a computer and TV in the same room and are musically multi-tasking. There’s a lot of emerging technology that will allow people to have even more control over what they watch, how and when they watch it, and what they’ll be able to do simultaneously while they’re watching. It’s only a matter of time before a true interactive convergence of TV and the Internet busts its way into the mainstream.
Sometimes it looks like media are fracturing into more delivery systems, not fewer. How does MTV plan to deal with that?
The key for us is to make sure that our content can be flexible enough to be experienced through various forms of delivery. We’re already in the midst of delivering content through different experiences — TV, online, wireless, blogs, virtual experiences — and we will adapt accordingly as new ways to deliver our content are introduced.

The production and distribution of audio and video content is becoming easier and less expensive, a trend that might threaten established brands. Does MTV worry that an ocean of new homegrown content will threaten its market share?
The most entertaining content wins, no matter who it comes from. We’ve opened the doors wide to welcome cool sh*t from our audience. And we’re excited about the possibilities of integrating even more homegrown content from our viewers into various forms of MTV. For example, pretty soon we’ll be able to turn over the footage from an artist’s video shoot to the viewers and let them create their own versions of the video. MTV2 viewers are sending us their Sucker Freestyles [homemade hip-hop videos], and we’re putting them on TV and online if they’re good. And right now we’re running a contest to find the Best Music on Campus. College-based bands are creating their own videos in the hopes that they will land a major record deal. We’re constantly showcasing the creative content coming from our audience in a way that none of our competitors can because we reach so many people through our multiple screens.

In 10 years, will there be any device that does not play music?
Ten years from now I think we’ll be installing chips in our brains that will intuitively know what music we want to hear so we’ll always have a song in our heads.

Last, and most important, can Britney Spears make a musical comeback?
We’re a twisted society in that the harder our celebrities fall, the more we root for their comeback. All Britney needs, besides a big hug, is a hit song and a great video and all will be forgotten.

Art Jahnke can be reached at jahnke@bu.edu.