VH1 Turns 20

VH1, MTV’s spin-off network for the adult set, has now been around twenty years.

It was 20 years ago today (Hollywood Reporter)

How things change: VH1, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, has since undergone more evolutions than David Bowie — but unlike that aging rock chameleon, the network recently has attracted more fans than ever before with a revamped mix of reality shows, pop-culture commentary and an ever-shifting lineup of music-related programming.

The numbers tell the story: VH1’s ratings rose 33% among its key adults 18-49 demographic during the second quarter of 2005, marking the network’s 12th consecutive quarter of viewership growth. An integral element in Viacom’s portfolio of cable networks, VH1 reaches more than 87 million U.S. households, and its net advertising revenue has climbed from $44.5 million in 1993 to a projected $328.2 million in 2006, according to Kagan Research.


During the past 20 years, VH1 has ridden a roller coaster from being hot briefly — on the strength of such shows as “Behind the Music,” which became popular enough to be mocked on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” and “Pop Up Video,” which took video-watching to a meta level — to practically irrelevant, as when stand-up comedians all but dominated the channel’s airwaves during the late ’80s and early ’90s.


Executives dumped the comics during the 1990s and adopted the slogan “Music First,” which brought back some videos but also coalesced “Behind” and “Pop Up,” shows that would define VH1 for the rest of the 20th century and earn the network some of its highest ratings to date. In October 1998, “Behind” episodes featuring Shania Twain and John Denver averaged a 1.1 rating in the 18-49 demo and nearly 1.3 million total viewers. “Pop Up” peaked in February 1997, averaging a 0.4 rating in the 18-49 demo and 353,000 total viewers.

I hardly watch the network now that I’m on TiVo but used to watch quite a bit. “Behind the Music” was strangely gripping, in that I would sit through episodes on groups whose work I never much listened to (Metallica, for example) but was never appointment viewing. I would catch it flipping through the dials during commercials and wind up staying.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.