mtvlogoLast week I published a guest by Marcus Seal, a member of Association of Independent Record Labels (AIR) who is also the MD of Shock Entertainment. It dealt with a dispute between that organisation and the broadcasters MTV and VH1 Australia.

Today we publish a response from MTV.

By way of reminder, Marcus Seal’s basic contention was that AIR will not provide permission for their artists’ video clips to be shown on MTV or VH1 because the stations will not pay:

To oversimplify the current situation, if the next Nirvana is a New Zealander, MTV will pay them to use their work on their channels and however else they use it. They will also do that in Europe….

But what if Nirvana Mach II is Australian and with an independent?

Well, if past conduct is anything to go by, MTV won’t which is why you won’t see many of the artists I’ve listed above on their channels. As we sit here today, the answer is no, you probably won’t.

If however, you’re with one of the big four multi-nationals then MTV will pay you. Go figure.

At Shock we have chosen not to give our music videos to them since 2007 because we think their stance is wrong. I have heard others have done the same. The artists we represent haven’t been paid anything since 2004.

The dispute is about to be negotiated before the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

Despite me offering MTV equal space for their response, they elected to provide this simple press release:

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to respond. See below our company statement as requested:

It is important to clarify that MTV Networks Australia initiated the dialogue with AIR (Association of Independent Record Labels), continues to invest in programming opportunities for indie artists and does not air any indie videos without the express permission of the rights holder.

However, as a matter of company policy, MTV Networks does not comment upon negotiations so specifics will not be provided.

For me, this is all kind of fascinating.  I don’t really have a dog in this fight, though I do find the topic interesting.  Coming at it as an outsider, I could certainly see AIR’s point of view and, after reading Marcus Seal’s piece, had some sympathy for his organisation’s argument.

Truth be told, I was looking forward to hearing MTV/VH1’s response.  My first feeling, therefore, is disappointment with what they have provided.

Rather than a response in kind, what I was given to print, as you can see, was a press release designed to say just about nothing.  Is this the sort of thing of I want to give my readers?  Not at all.

Truth be told, I thought the original piece, the one by Marcus Seal, was a bit long and therefore a bit circuitous.  I thought he could’ve explained his point more clearly.  If things had worked out a little differently, I would’ve edited it pretty heavily.  But they didn’t and I didn’t.

Nonetheless, the piece is interesting in its own way.  At least you feel like there is a human being in there trying to say something.

You don’t get that feeling — and nor, I think, are you meant to — with the MTV press release.  It’s meant to sound corporate, self-important and detached, as if they are rising above the emotionalism of Marcus’s piece — or AIR’s position — and being all professional and everything.

Far be it from me to tell them how to run their PR, but again, speaking as an outsider, speaking as a reader, speaking as someone with a growing interest in the topic, I’d call their approach a fail.

So I followed up via email with some questions to Laura Vozzo at MTV:

Thanks, Laura.  And you know, we would’ve given you a lot more space if you’d wanted to use it!

I appreciate your position about not commenting, but it does strike me as pretty unsatisfactory to leave it at this, from the public’s point of view anyway.  It doesn’t really answer the specific case that Mr Seal makes and so it seems (to me anyway) to leave him with the last word.

For instance, his take is that they won’t give you their product because you won’t pay.

Your response seems to be: MTV “does not air any indie videos without the express permission of the rights holder.”

That just seems like word games to me.  The point is not that you won’t air indie vids without their permission, but that they (in this case, Shock) won’t give you permission because you don’t pay.

So from what you’ve said, do you mean to say that you would pay if they gave you permission?

And if that is the case, then why is there a dispute?  It all seems a bit confusing for those of us on the outside.

Anyway, as I say, we’d be really pleased to give you more space to respond if you want it, but let me say thanks regardless for responding so promptly in the first place.

Cheers – Tim

What ensued was actually a pleasant exchange.  Their press release might’ve lacked the feeling of humans being involved, but the subsequent exchanges didn’t. Laura Vozzo wrote:

Hi Tim,

I understand this may raise a few questions however it is company policy that we do not go into detail regarding our negotiations.

We appreciate the offer but at this stage we need to stick to the statement.

She was right that their position did raise a few questions and I figured it was worth one more try to see if I could clarify at least one of them. So I wrote back:

Thanks, Laura.

I think I understand that, but I wonder if you can maybe respond to my question, which I don’t think violates your position.

Shock say they won’t let MTV play clips bc you won’t pay.

You say you won’t use videos unless you have permission. That suggests that you will pay if they give you permission.

Is that right? If it isn’t, doesn’t that mean your statement is somewhat misleading?

Thanks again for your time. Appreciate it.

But no, I didn’t get anywhere:

Hey Tim,

I hear you. We are discussing this internally. Stay tuned.

So there you go. And yes, we are staying tuned. I intend to speak to some other people from the independent musicians side of the debate and will bring you their comments if and when I get them.

The invitation remains open to MTV/VH1 to write a more detailed account of their side of their story. It’s be great if they did.

As I say, this has all been very interesting for me. My natural inclination is to see it as a bit of a David-and-Goliath battle, and to feel some affinity for the David side of the debate, the independent musicians. Maybe it’s just that Australian thing of siding with the underdog. But I’m certainly opened to be convinced otherwise.

The really telling point for me in all this — and I take it as face value given that MTV haven’t disputed it — is that they (MTV) will pay for clips from independents in New Zealand and Europe but won’t offer the same terms in Australia. That seems really odd.

Anyway, this is a story we’ll be keeping an eye on, especially once the negotiations involving the ACCC have happened. Keep checking in, or keep an eye on my Twitter feed.

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