When the upstart music channel Fuse officially launched last spring, MTV general manager David Cohn told Rolling Stone the new competitor didn’t scare him. “That ‘Where are the music videos on MTV?’ thing?” Cohn said. “I’m not sure anybody’s that fussed about it.” But in late December, industry sources were complaining that MTV had started turning up the heat on its competition, enforcing exclusivity contracts that keep some artists’ videos off Fuse.
“We pay millions of dollars to the labels to support the production of videos,” says MTV spokeswoman Jeannie Kedas. “We take a handful of exclusives a year, and it gives major exposure to the artist.” MTV reaches 87 million households; Fuse reaches 34 million. Though Fuse is the smaller fish, one prominent manager points out that artists value the channel’s commitment to playing videos: “It’s more like MTV used to be. It’s cooler and more irreverent.”
MTV exclusives are nothing new. But before Fuse, the twenty-two-year-old video network had no real competition. Label and management insiders say that, in recent months, MTV has become pushier about its demands. “They’re using our bands to get in a war among themselves,” says one label source. Bands such as P.O.D. and Puddle of Mudd got around the rules by filming live performances at Fuse’s studios.
MTV’s Kedas says the network rarely asks for exclusive rights on a video. “We’re not exercising those rights any more aggressively because of Fuse,” she says. Kedas argues that since Fuse doesn’t pay the labels the millions of dollars in licensing fees that MTV does, it’s only fair that MTV should occasionally demand a blockbuster video for its exclusive use. In the past year, Kedas says, MTV has taken fewer than a dozen exclusives, including Radiohead’s “There There,” Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love,” Blink-182’s “Feeling This,” Limp Bizkit’s “Eat You Alive” and Linkin Park’s “Numb.”
Fuse president Marc Juris downplays the turf war with MTV, saying there are plenty of videos to go around: “It’s not about owning content – it’s about owning a voice which makes that content take on greater meaning to our audience. Competition is everywhere. But if I was to think it’s only MTV I have to worry about, I’d be thinking pretty narrowly.”