For college students, MTV is more reality television than music television. But MTV is returning to its roots with mtvU, a channel broadcast exclusively on college campuses and devoted primarily to music videos.
The idea is to scour universities and survey students to discover lesser-known bands that aren't getting airplay on mainstream radio stations. Network executives hope mtvU and its audience will serve as a training ground for those musicians who could graduate to MTV.
"Just playing music isn't enough," says Steven Friedman, general manager of mtvU. "We've got to give them music before they see it on MTV and hear it on the radio. So it becomes a laboratory for not only the artists but the students themselves. We discover it as they're discovering it.
"We worship at the altar of our audience. We're irrelevant without them."
The month-old campus network is touting its first find, 16-year-old Joss Stone, a product of S-Curve Records, a network partner.
Her vintage soul music wouldn't normally be played on MTV. But on mtvU, the Brit's a star. She's been the featured artist on The Cut, mtvU's request show, and her music can be downloaded from the Web site www.mtvu.com.
"A lot of outlets are not interested in what's not going to bring ratings," says Marty Maidenberg, general manager of S-Curve Records. "To say it's been a marketing windfall is an understatement for us. They're delivering this demographic to us."
mtvU can potentially reach 5.5 million students with its presence on 720 U.S. college campuses. It's broadcast in dorm rooms, common areas and cafeterias. Thirteen Maryland colleges and universities currently carry the service, from Carroll Community College to the University of Maryland, College Park.
MTV bought the channel, formerly known as CTN: College Television Network, in October 2002 and re-launched it last month.
There are brief, hourly news updates courtesy of CBS, also owned by Viacom. From 11 p.m. to 2 a.m., MTV reruns such as Daria and Celebrity Death Match are broadcast.
They're using the channel to drive students to the Web site with contests and surveys, including "Stand In," which asks students which pop culture figure they'd like to be a guest professor on campus.
So far, Marilyn Manson has agreed to teach music and marketing; Pulitzer Prize-winning author Frank McCourt will lecture about literature, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson will teach about racism and the law.
There's also a program that offers a $1,500 mtvU grant to a social activist each week of the school year.
And they're working with the National Campus Voter Registration Project to assist students in applying for voting booths on campuses that don't have them.
To raise awareness on campuses and involve students, the network's VJs are taking their shows and surveys on the road.
"We speak to them and get the vibe on campus," says 22-year-old VJ Maria Sansone, who called en route to Colorado State University. "They tell us what kind of music they're into and what's in and what's out. "
The Hartford Courant is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.