MTV's history of digital-music failure

How long will it take the corporate suits at Viacom to realize that MTV Networks will never, ever, ever succeed in digital music? The latest move, folding MTV's Urge online music store into RealNetworks' Rhapsody service, is just another example of its fumbling. One could point out that MTV doesn't actually broadcast much in the way of music these days; to the extent it's holding onto its youth demographic, it's doing so with a TV schedule packed with reality shows and teen soap operas. Do its viewers even know that the "M" in "MTV" stands for "music"? But never mind that. The reality of MTV is a decade-long history of complete and utter failure in digital music. The timeline of missed opportunities, botched deals, and general cluelessness, after the jump:

  • November 1996 Yahoo and MTV announce the creation of UnfURLed, "the ultimate guide to music on the Web." The site is promised to launch in January 1997.
  • January 1997 UnfURLed does not launch.
  • July 1997 UnfURLed launches, six months late. The site later disappears, forgotten.
  • February 1999 Viacom acquires Imagine Radio, a service which lets users listen to preprogrammed music channels, or create their own. (If that sounds a lot like Last.fm or Pandora, that's because it was a lot like those sites.)
  • May 1999 Viacom acquires SonicNet, an online music-news and information site.
  • August 1999 Amid Internet fervor, Viacom creates the MTVi Group as a rollup of its Internet websites, hoping to take it public to cash in on the market for Internet stocks.
  • August 2000With an IPO off the boards, Viacom reorganizes MTVi, giving control over websites like MTV.com and VH1.com back to their respective cable channels.
  • 2001-2004 MTV does nothing interesting with Internet music for five years or so, as best we can tell.
  • April 2005 MTV launches Overdrive, a broadband "channel." MTV later brags about how many "video streams" Overdrive serves, not noticing the complete apathy with which music fans greet it.
  • July 2005 News Corp. swoops in and inks a deal to buy the parent company of MySpace. Viacom is widely reported to have been interested in buying MySpace, which gained popularity by embracing music on user profiles and getting bands to use the site to communicate with fans.
  • January 2006 Microsoft and MTV launch Urge, an online music store.
  • August 2006 Google and MTV announce an experimental deal to distribute videos over Google's AdSense network. The experiment, apparently a failure, dissolves quietly.
  • September 2006 Viacom CEO Tom Freston, a longtime MTV exec, is fired, reportedly for missing the chance to buy MySpace. Later that month, Microsoft knifes MTV in the back by announcing its Zune player and companion store, rendering Urge pointless.
  • August 2007 MTV merges Urge into RealNetworks' also-struggling Rhapsody music service.

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