Sing a Song of Seeing

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On the underside of the bottom line is the music, and for those who do not like to study the numbers, there is Duran Duran, an affable, uninspired British band currently aglow with success. Says Norman Samnick, senior vice president of Warner Communications, which is MTV'S proud parent: "I think Duran Duran owes its life to MTV." Duran Duran, in the person of Synthesizer Player Nick Rhodes, agrees: "MTV was instrumental in breaking us in America." Even the record industry could beam in on the phenomenon when it noticed that the Duran Duran album, Rio, was being sold out at half the record stores in Dallas and was gathering dust in the other half. A check of the local television listings showed that parts of the city that were wired for cable and carrying MTV were the very same parts where the album was flourishing.

No one needs cable to see Duran Duran or Michael Jackson anymore. Duran Duran has put out a "video album." The wise fathers at Sony have issued one of their new Video 45s (cassettes with twelve to 20 minutes of playing time) featuring still more Duran Duran material. Last week a tape of Michael Jackson's exuberant Thriller video went on sale. Also on the cassette was a documentary chronicling the making of the quick flick and several scenes of Michael cavorting variously on a Motown special, through his Beat It clip and, at age eight, in front of a home-movie camera. This nifty one-hour package goes for $29.95.

All right, all right, it must be admitted: Michael Jackson is a special case. He may be the hottest single in show business right now. He is a supremely gifted performer, the Fred Astaire of video. But no one is too big for a video boost. Thriller, the megabit Jackson album, had already sold more than 2 million copies in the U.S. when the first video, Billie Jean, hit the clubs and the air waves. The album went on to sell more than 10 million additional copies. Jackson was on such a streak that he could, with impunity, spend an estimated $1.1 million for the sassy 14 minutes of Thriller video, which allows him to put on all manner of baroque monster makeup and boogie with the living dead.

This seems like a hefty slice of cash for what many people consider essentially a promo item, but MTV, though it gets its clips gratis, paid $250,000 for the exclusive rights to show the documentary, from which it lifted the Thriller video intact; Showtime paid $300,000 for pay-cable rights; and Vestron Video reportedly plunked down an additional $500,000 to market the cassette, in which Jackson has what the folks in business affairs call "a profit participation." Not only that, the Thriller album, already out for a year, went into the holiday season selling about 200,000 copies a week. After Thriller had been on MTV for only five days, album sales went up to 600,000.

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