MTV's Desperate Video Music Awards

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Scott Wintrow / Getty

Beyonce

Even though it's been years since the channel has shown the videos it honors, the MTV Video Music Awards persist. This year's top nominees, announced today, are Beyonce and Justin Timberlake with seven apiece, followed by Kanye West and Rihanna with five, and Amy Winehouse with three.

MTV typically waits until the very last second to find/announce a host for its signature awards show, but thus far West, Winehouse, Rihanna, Fall Out Boy, Lily Allen, Chris Brown and Foo Fighters are committed to perform, with more acts to be announced soon.

In at least a nod to the fact that MTV is no longer really a music video network, a few new categories have been added to the show. Male and Female artist of the year recognize an artist's complete body of work in 2007, while Monster Single of the Year and Quadruple Threat award (honoring "those boundary-busting artists who have conquered multiple worlds including, but not limited to; music, fashion, philanthropy, business, acting and dance") give the network's bookers latitude to honor celebrities who haven't had much of a video presence, but who might bring in some ratings.

If that seems slightly desperate, it is. For years, the Video Music Awards were MTV's highest-rated programming event. Launched in 1984, with Dan Aykroyd and Bette Midler hosting, the ceremony was a remarkably fresh and satirical take on dull old awards shows. Because its premise was that the awards themselves were a joke — statuettes went to bands for videos in which they often didn't appear, let alone direct — celebrities were looser and more spontaneous, and so was the show.

Like all successful satire, the VMAs eventually became the thing they satirized, resorting to stunt casting (Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie's kiss! Madonna and Britney and Christina's kiss!) and remote locations (Miami! The Metropolitan Opera!) to sustain interest. Nevertheless, ratings for the 2006 show were down 28% from the 8 million viewers the VMAs averaged in 2005, and nearly 45% down from 2005. This year's edition will be held Sept. 9 at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas.

Part of the dwindling interest can be explained by the overall slump in music sales, but there's no question that MTV has also abandoned a lot of the audience that would once have had an interest in a three-hour-plus music awards show. With videos now as rare as senior citizens on the channel — and yes, even complaining about the relative scarcity marks one's age — the current MTV audience has become intolerant of extensive music programming.

If there remains one category that people actually care about, it's Video of the Year, in which Winehouse's Rehab battles against Beyonce's Irreplaceable, Justice's D.A.N.C.E., Timberlake's What Goes Around… Come Around,, West's Stronger and Rihanna's Umbrella. Bet on Winehouse. But don't bet on a lot of people tuning in.