As a steady stream of reality shows replace music videos on cable stations like MTV, local production companies are facing a precarious future.

New data from the Entertainment Industry Development Corp. shows that the number of music video shooting days in L.A. County dropped dramatically from 182 in July to 95 in August. In May, permits were issued for 314 shooting days.

Though there have been random drops in the number of local shoots in the past, local producers aren't prepared to shrug off the latest numbers as merely a glitch.

"There's no question that the industry is changing," said Bruce Martin, an executive producer with 1171 Production Group. "Just like what happened with FM radio before, music television has gravitated to the broadest demographic market, and as a result the rotation of music videos has shrunk."

Record labels are continuing to make music videos to promote new CDs released by their artists. But these days, the bulk of those videos never make it to MTV. Many are used for marketing purposes and at best get shown on smaller regional television stations or on the Internet, according to Martin.

As a result, many of the videos now being produced are low-budget, with record companies reserving the big bucks for only their top-selling acts.

More money, less videos

"It's becoming a very focused market," said Catherine Finkenstaedt, executive producer with Extension Films and president of the Music Video Producers Association in Los Angeles. "More money is spent on fewer videos, as the record companies are taking less risks on new and unproven acts, and there is very little exposure for them."

Meanwhile, the growing popularity of reality shows such as "Real World" and "Road Rules" on MTV, and music-oriented documentaries like "Behind the Music" on VH1 have made straightforward music video shows a rarity on major cable stations.

Cable network executives tend to write that off as simply a way of reinventing the way music is packaged. But that explanation doesn't fly with many people in the music industry.

"The general trend that I see is that MTV plays about anything but music videos," said Tess Taylor, president of the National Association of Record Industry Professionals. "It's part of a general homogenization of radio and video driven by the need to generate advertising revenues, and it gives the strong impression that music video is becoming a thing of the past."

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