Yesterday, SF Weekly put out a headline that caught my eye. Apparently, MTV “Regrettably” announced new digital music awards, the OMAs. I was interested.

Why, I thought, would MTV regret their announcement – and so quickly after announcing it? Turns out, it was the writer who regretted reporting on it, for reasons that are not fully discernible. However, the idea that MTV would create another digital music regret got me thinking about their foray into the digital music space, and why the OMAs may or may not be the cause of regret.

Charts Charts Charts
Here we are again. Charting music in the digital space is a mess; too many statistics coupled with gaping holes in data to create a truly transparent chart allowable through the transfer and consumption of digital media. In a world of zeros and ones, the data points have never been more elusive to marketers, consumers and creators.

In the past, there were charts. Charts told as many stories about major giant acts as they did about independent music, college radio and an entire world of burgeoning underground music that might, eventually, maybe, make it to MTV’s 120 Minutes and break a record.

While the entire model around push-marketing music in a physical marketplace turned on its head in the digital environment (a marketplace without shelf space), significant charts somehow also disappeared. Without access to data needed to rebuild a logical and intricate charting system that works when sliced and diced into zip codes, demographics, broadcast sources and digital spin counts, SoundScan and analytics based purely on lesser defined social media parameters dictate the predictive market.

And the results are not shocking. Ultimate Chart reveals Lady Gaga on top. Perhaps SF Weekly’s Adrian Covert considered the news regrettable because, as he said, “Oh, and you’ll get to help vote for the winner, which basically means Justin Bieber is winning EVERYTHING.”

Without charts encompassing all of the data needed for marketers and musicians to make deep strategical assessments across genres and subculture scenes in various cities, MTV is able to partner with any company analyzing social media data around music, survey their millions of viewers and website visitors, and call it a digital music award.

But why? Because MTV knows award shows, and previous efforts to sell music directly to like-minded consumers was a pretty big fail. Entertaining a wide variety of consumers and selling advertisements is what Vicaom, MTV’s parent company, does best.

Lesson Learned
MTV captures the attention of consumers, but their ability to sell digital product directly to consumers in a profitable matrix certainly proved regrettable with the launch of their digital music store Urge in 2005.

Back then, MTV partnered with Microsoft, using digital music as an opportunity to compete with Rhapsody and iTunes for the consumers’ purchasing attention, rather than tackle the digital marketplace as the attention-getter they’ve always been. MTV has never been a place to buy music. Online and on television, MTV has never been a marketplace where people go to buy things.

By August 2007 Urge cut its losses, moving all of their registrants over to Rhapsody, ending MTV’s play in digital music sales and internet radio.

Today, on the heels of Snooki, MTV is back to doing what they do best when it comes to music: generating attention in an attention economy. The O in OMA is undecided; MTV happily announced a plan to crowdsource the definition of the ‘O’ in OMA.

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