“Music is up 18 per cent year on year on Foxtel and it’s the fastest-growing category behind news, so there’s an exciting opportunity there,” says McMurdo.
“But music is always at the heart of what we do because our audiences are so passionate about it. Millennials say music is the number one mechanism they use to cope with stress – above exercise, above watching content, or talking to friends and family. So music is really important to us from a brand point of view, and I think this new set of channels demonstrates our commitment to that.”
The MTV brand in Australia has undergone numerous changes since it was first launched on Nine in 1987, with Richard Wilkins and Joy Smithers as presenters. Its 24-hour channel premiered on Optus Television in 1996 before moving to Foxtel in 2002, where it launched the careers of presenters such as Ruby Rose and Darren McMullen.
Echoing complaints aimed at its overseas branches, the network also earned criticism for turning away from music in favour of reality TV franchises such as Catfish, Geordie Shore and Teen Mom.
Wednesday’s expanded suite comes in the wake of last year’s merger between MTV’s parent company Viacom and CBS, which has led to speculation that some of MTV’s upcoming content will be shared with their new stable-mates, the free-to-air broadcaster Network 10.
“The integrated company provides us with huge opportunity for growth here in the Australian market,” says McMurdo of potential crossover plans. “We are exploring all of the opportunities this presents and there’s a high level of passion and excitement for MTV and the music category.”
The new channels continue a thread of MTV commissions over the past 18 months that have sought to actively engage the local music community, says McMurdo, including such original productions as MTV Unplugged Melbourne, Call & Response and MTV Upload, which have included the first television performances from acclaimed local artists such as Thelma Plum and Cub Sport.
They also arrive as the music industry’s wider COVID-19 shutdown, and the subsequent surge of live-streamed performances, has shown there’s a strong audience for televised music – all amidst a historic dearth of it on commercial television.
In February, Network 10 scrapped its popular music show The Loop after eight years on air. In May, music fans online mourned the axing of Foxtel’s flagship local music channel Channel V and its sister channel Max. The cuts have left MTV and the ABC’s Rage and The Set as Australian TV’s last remaining music offerings.
“It’s an opportunity and a responsibility, especially in this COVID context,” says McMurdo of becoming television’s largest music space at such a significant moment for the local industry. “With artists unable to tour and play gigs in the same capacity as they previously were, we are committed to creating content platforms for both established and emerging artists to shine.”
For MTV presenter Flex Mami, aka Lillian Ahenkan, whose expanded role as an on-air interviewer will see her spotlighting emerging local talent, the network’s renewed commitment to local music is “huge”.
“It’s been really unfair the extent to which the arts scene has been neglected in recent months, considering most people are turning to the arts for a sense of normalcy and a sense of comfort,” she says.
“To hear that MTV is providing a platform for musicians from all genres – not just the ones that are easy to digest; we have country, we have R&B, we have rap, we have house, we have everything – it means there’s going to be music and videos and interviews and a space on mainstream TV where musicians can get in front of an audience in a new way.”
Robert Moran is a culture reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age