Sing a Song of Seeing

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MTV receives an average of two dozen new tapes every week and insists that it will play all of them, as long, in Les Garland's words, "as they have no gratuitous sex or violence, are technically sound and feature rock-'n'-roll music." The executives, not the deejays, make the choices, and researchers hit the phones, logging approximately 3,000 survey calls each week. Response helps determine how long a video stays on the air, and how frequently it will run. Lauper's Girls Just Want to Have Fun, for example, is breaking in with "light rotation" (one or two plays a day). Herbie Hancock's kinetic Rockit and Duran Duran's Union of the Snake rate "heavy rotation," which means four to five plays in 24 hours.

With all the heat and excitement, then, and the increased cash flow to the record companies, it comes as something of a surprise to learn that MTV is not yet in the black. Supplied free at first to cable services, it now costs cable operators 10¢ to 15¢ per customer per month. It may be a little early to expect a profit; no one is even sure how much it costs Warner-Amex to run MTV every year. (The best educated guess is $30 million.) Jack Schneider, Warner-Amex Satellite Entertainment Co. president, predicts profits "some time in 1984," but is vague about numbers. MTV chases advertisers, but, says McCann-Erikson Vice President Paul Green, "the channel's format is so distinctive. The question is whether you're going to create an ad just to run on their channel—is it worth it? More and more the advertisers are saying yes, but it will take time."


Imagine some intrepid young director mounting a revved-up revival of Samuel Beckett's classic, with the scrofulous Krapp wheezing his memoirs onto videotape. It is a daunting prospect, but not perhaps (discounting the good taste of the author's literary agents) an entirely unlikely one. Video has already reached the stage, in Beatlemania for example, but it is practically inundating Hollywood.

Blame it on Flashdance. A seemingly impossible combination of a feminist Rocky, a bar girl Fame and Jane Fonda's Workout, Flashdance was planned before MTV even got on the air, and was in production when MTV first started to catch on. Critics, nevertheless, delighted in enumerating the movie's improbabilities and disparagingly pointed out its resemblance to a rock video. None of that seemed to trouble the paying public, which has forked over nearly $93 million to see Flashdance in the theater, an additional $47 million for the sound track and some $8 million for the privilege of owning the video cassette and getting down and getting groovy in the privacy of their homes.

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