If everything went as planned, MTV Networks’ new service, VH1, began broadcasting on January 1st. Designed to appeal to 25- to 54-year-olds, VH1 is supposed to be markedly different from MTV, relying as much on the personalities of its VJs as on the music. (At press time, popular New York-area disc jockeys Don Imus and Scott Shannon had been signed, and singer Judy Collins was being considered for a slot.) Bob Pittman, MTV Networks’ executive vice president, recently discussed the new network’s look and sound.
What will the overall flavor of VH1 be like?
The atmosphere will be one of comfort, stability, friendliness. MTV’s atmosphere represents irreverence, zaniness, instability. VH1 is going to be a little smoother in its pacing, a little more tied together. The VH1 VJ will be there to entertain.
What kind of music will VH1 feature?
The adult segment: Diana Ross, Shalamar, Ashford and Simpson, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson. Some artists, like Hall and Oates, will probably be duplicated on both services.
Will there be news on VH1?
Yes. It will be entertainment news rather than just music news, which we do on MTV. VH1 will probably take the People-magazine approach — the idea that you’re not interested so much in hard news but more in just what’s interesting.
What about the set?
The VJ will be the focal point, whereas on MTV the VJ is using the set to create a certain attitude. The VH1 VJ will be the Johnny Carson or Phil Donahue of music.
Do you think VH1 will have the same impact on adult music that MTV had on rock?
Yeah. But the mandates are a little different. With VH1, the major problem is that even the established artists don’t sell a lot of records relative to the general population that they appeal to. We’ll be dealing with 40 percent of the U.S. population, so if we can have a slight effect on sales, you’re talking about major economic changes possible for the record industry.
Who do you think will watch VH1? Housewives?
Absolutely. But we’re going to have a very diverse audience. I think we will dominate the sophisticated urban viewer who is not in the mainstream. If you walked around Wall Street, or in bank offices, you’d understand who those people are. In Middle America, it’ll be people who perceive themselves as pretty hip, but who are over 35. It’ll also be people living in house trailers in Mississippi.
On another topic, MTV Networks recently spent $1 million to buy out a possible competitor, Ted Turner’s Cable Music Channel (CMC), which had only been on the air 34 days. How did the deal come about?
The Turner organization decided they wanted to shut CMC down. They asked if there were certain assets that we would be interested in acquiring. Since we were launching VH1, we were interested in those assets which we thought we could use — say, converting CMC subscribers to VH1 subscribers.
Mr. Turner once suggested that MTV was responsible for turning America’s youth from Boy Scouts into Hitler Youth. How would you respond to that?
I don’t know if Ted felt that way or if that’s just what Ted said. I think with MTV, we are representing change. There are certain people who are resistant to the change, just as people thought long hair on men would destroy the moral fiber of America. It didn’t. I think all the new fashions and styles that are being introduced by MTV are just that — fashions and styles.