MTV logos 1981-82, by Fred Seibert, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0,
MTV logos 1981-82, by Fred Seibert, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0,

The station has grown into a brand housing channels that are viewed in more than 500m homes worldwide.

Now 31-years-old and heading toward middle age, MTV has retained its status as a popculture creator, through shows such as Jersey Shore and controversial performances at its Video Music Awards (VMAs).

MTV was launched on 1 August, 1981, and the first music video it broadcast was Video Killed the Radio Star by The Buggles. At the time it hardly seemed likely that the fledgling channel would gain more than a modicum of recognition, let alone supplant radio.

US record companies and musicians rarely produced song videos at the time, but in Britain, acts such as Duran Duran had produced promos for some time. As a result, UK acts gained plenty of air time on MTV, which led to an explosion in the popularity of British music Stateside.

MTV initially refused to air Michael Jackson's epic Thriller video in 1983, but it later became the channel's most-requested video, and helped its ratings rocket. In the same year, the station became more widely available on cable television in the US.

A decisive venture was an ad campaign featuring music stars such as Boy George, David Bowie, Mick Jagger and Cyndi Lauper with the line 'I want my MTV'. It created an undeniable and enduring connection between musicians, the channel and young viewers.

The MTV concept, its advertising, brand and identity were mainly down to its first creative director, Fred Seibert. For the now famous logo, Seibert called on an old school friend and young designer, Frank Olinsky. Among many sketches came a bold sans serif 'M'. The dimensional sides and 'TV' were added and when the network asked for corporate colours, the decision was made that the logo could consist of any colour or material. Inspiration for this came from graffiti, and the idea that rock and roll is always changing.

The channel took off as music execs and record labels realised the marketing potential of the music video, while for MTV, the medium made for low-cost programming. It spawned more channels, including VH1, and in 1987, MTV Europe launched, soon boasting a viewership that stretched to 1.6m households.

The brand's VMAs began in 1984 with a memorable performance of Like a Virgin by Madonna. These kind of highly publicised moments involving celebrities are now a standard feature of the event.

In the 90s, MTV diversified its offering to include original shows such as The Real World and Beavis and Butthead. In recent years, similar programming has become the core of its offering while its more-specialist music channels - including MTV Base, MTV Dance and MTV Classic - cater for fans of specific genres.

Such was the influence of the channel, it led to the informal term 'the 'MTV generation' being used to describe young people. Today, the brand's demographic remains the same, and its channels reach 508m households worldwide.

It has had a strong influence on film, too, with the CVs of Holywood film directors such as David Fincher, Spike Jonze and Michael Bay featuring credits on music videos made famous by MTV.


Silas Amos, creative strategist, JKR,Silas Amos, creative strategist, JKR

Through MTV's formative decade, its logo acted as a canvas for the whims of generations of designers, as it was constantly reinterpreted and played with.

Unlikely to win a typographic beauty contest, the design instead developed a big personality. Like one famous early version, planted by an astronaut on the moon, it was a pioneer. The design application's kinetic exuberance was a fantastic complement to the shouted slogan 'I want my MTV'; it looked like a cheery yell.

As a design lesson it was proof that the medium can be the message. What I mean is that the myriad funky ways in which it was expressed made it visually reflective of the channel's fast-cut video content.

It defined the style of the 'video age' as much as represented it. Which came first, the wonky claymation versions of the logo, or the video for Peter Gabriel's Sledgehammer?

'The MTV generation' defined an entire era, and when a design helps put your brand at the heart of popular culture, success will surely follow.

That was then. Look on YouTube for compilations of MTV idents. They pre-date the current approach, which is telling. The logo remains, but it's less spirited and colourful. It was a creative springboard; now it's a corporate anchor. It makes strategic sense, as the brand has diversified, and the less soulful expression seems fitting for the home of Jersey Shore. We get the designs, culture and media we demand.


1989: The world premiere of Madonna's Like A Prayer video aired on the channel.

1989: MTV Unplugged aired for the first time, showcasing acoustic performances from acts such as Nirvana and LL Cool J.

1992: Presidential candidate and Arkansas governor Bill Clinton answered young people's questions in the first of MTVs Choose Or Lose forums covering politics.

2000: Comedy show Jackass debuted on the channel, produced by Johnny Knoxville, Jeff Tremaine, and director Spike Jonze.

2002: The world's first celebrity reality TV show, The Osbournes, was broadcast by MTV.

2009: Jersey Shore became the number-one show on US TV and MTV's most successful series yet in terms of ratings.

2011: Mike Judge's Beavis and Butthead returned to MTV. It initially ran from 1993 to 1997.

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