Buzz Vs. Budget

It was no accident that this year’s MTV video of the year award went to Rihanna’s "Umbrella," a video lacking the multimillion-dollar budget and grandiosity so frequently seen in the offerings of the network’s golden age.

While it may lack the over-the-top special effects of a classic like Michael Jackson’s "Scream," which at $7 million was the most expensive music video ever produced, the simple, bold format of "Umbrella" was more in tune with the times.

Record labels continue to struggle to find a place in the new model for the music industry, with sales on the downfall, downloads on the rise and pennies increasingly being pinched for any unnecessary extras like big-budget music videos.

The consensus seems to be this: If the kids are just going to watch it on YouTube anyway, what’s the point of filming a cinematic masterpiece when Internet memes like Tay Zonday’s low-tech music video for "Chocolate Rain" can rack up more than 8 million hits?

And likewise, with the majority of music videos being played on iPods, cell phones and laptops these days, special effects may not even register depending on screen sizes and download speeds.

But what part has MTV played in the decline of the genre?

These days, music videos are generally used as filler – sound bytes to splice between commercials during one of the network’s various reality television programs.

Even MTV2, the kid brother channel that was originally launched to play videos all day, commercial free, has faced numerous re-launches and features mostly "Jackass" offshoots to target 12-34 year-old males.

Justin Timberlake, whose cinematic "What Goes Around… Comes Around," featuring actress Scarlett Johansson, was likely one of the most expensive videos nominated at this year’s VMAs, commented on MTV’s lack of musical programming during the ceremony.

"I want to challenge MTV to play more videos," he said. "We don’t want to see ‘The Simpsons’ on reality television. We want more videos!"

Timberlake may want his old MTV back, but it doesn’t look like it will happen anytime soon.

Costly music videos may have helped to market artists and their records on MTV in the past, but the Internet has leveled the playing field. With a catchy video and a little buzz, nearly anyone could be the next YouTube phenomenon.