On August 1, 1981, MTV arrived on American screens promising a new era of music- while music videos had existed and been aired on television in the 70s, MTV was pitched as "music television," broadcasting only music videos. The first music video broadcast on MTV heralded a change in the entertainment industry, proudly proclaiming that "video killed the radio star," and we're forced to ask- did it?
It's certainly easy to understand why people believed it would in 1981, with MTV bringing music, which was often seen as radio's domain, into television. But here we are, 40 years later: MTV has devolved into reality TV with no music videos to be seen, while millions of Americans still tune in to the radio every day.
In retrospect, it's easy to see that video did not kill the radio star - or at least MTV didn't. Now, as the visual medium is moving from conventional television to streaming sites like YouTube, will radio finally meet its prophesied end?
Birth of Video
When video first began, it was in the form of silent films, often accompanied by live sounds. While silent films (and, eventually, their audible counterparts) were priced low enough that the average consumer could afford a ticket, they were still confined to the movie theater.
Video was a novel experience, but it wasn't the omnipresent force in everyday life that radio was in the 1920s. In the 50s, when televisions became cheap enough for the average consumer to have one in their home, video became more convenient for the average person.
Television was a constant source of news (and the occasional movie or other drama) in much the same way that radio had been. Still, while radios were largely portable and car radios became prominent, home television sets were big, bulky, and confined to one room.
Video and radio have both seen many advancements since the 50s - the invention of the VCR, changes in format, and growing popularity, to name a few. However, things remained largely the same until the advent of the internet, YouTube, and the portable computer.
The Rise of Youtube
Today, anyone with a smartphone can access any video they want from anywhere in the world, from live broadcasts to their home videos to classic movies. YouTube has over 2 billion users worldwide watching 5 billion videos each day, and the site's reach is only growing.
So, with YouTube and other video streaming services on the rise, where does this leave radio? It's clear that YouTube's growing success hasn't impeded radio; radio still reaches over 90% of Americans 12 and up.
Despite the advent of satellite radio, AM/FM radio is still the peak performer by a large margin.
So, while television didn't kill the radio star, it seems that the internet has managed to kill broadcast television while leaving radio largely unaffected.
Why Radio Survives
What is it about radio that's caused it to last, maintaining a large impact over the American consciousness for over a century? The first major point in radio’s favor is the lack of a screen.
While smartphones may have made video more portable than ever before, radio still dominates audiences in cars, and for good reason. Driving with a screen, be it a phone in your hand or a TV embedded in your console, is dangerous, distracting, and even illegal in most states.
Listening to the radio is also more convenient than visual media for any activity that requires your eyes to be somewhere else, like cooking or working out at the gym. No matter how convenient screens become, there are still situations where a screen is an unnecessary distraction.
A Lesson for Advertisers
Okay, so we're sure that radio's here to stay.
What does this mean for advertisers?
How does radio compare to video?
Second screens (e.g., reading this blog on your phone while the TV is on in the background) also pose a problem for TV advertisers; if someone is on their phone while the TV is on, they're probably not seeing your ads.
As for advertising on the phones, most web streaming services, particularly YouTube, allow viewers to skip ads after only a few seconds.
Meanwhile, advertising on the radio allows you to target specific audiences without letting them skip advertisements.
Radio and video don't have to be in competition- they work best in tandem. Advertising on both visual platforms (be it TV or the internet) and the radio allows you to reach your audience all day - in the car on the way to work, at home watching their favorite show, and more - leading to more exposure and more retention.
Video didn't kill the radio, it became its new best friend.