Viacom criticisms and controversies
|This article's lead section may not adequately summarize key points of its contents. (September 2016)|
In March 2005, the prior Viacom announced plans of looking into splitting the company into two publicly traded companies. The company was not only dealing with a stagnating stock price, but also the rivalry between Leslie Moonves and Tom Freston, longtime heads of MTV Networks. In addition, the company was facing issues after MTV was banned from producing any more Super Bowl halftime shows after the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show controversy in 2004.
On December 4, 2008 three weeks before Christmas, Viacom announced layoffs of 850 personnel, or 7% of their workforce. At the end of the year, Time Warner Cable (along with partner Bright House Networks) and Viacom's MTV Networks could not come to terms for the renewal of any Viacom channel beyond the end of year. Time Warner Cable's operations include New York City and Los Angeles, with Bright House including the Tampa Bay and Orlando markets, both top-20 markets. This blackout was narrowly avoided when a zero-hour deal was reached shortly after 12 Midnight ET on January 1, 2009.
On July 10, 2012 during contract negotiations over raising carrier rates the U.S. satellite TV provider, DirecTV's executives approached Viacom with a new proposal and a request to continue broadcasting 17 of Viacom's television networks (including Nickelodeon, MTV, Logo, and Comedy Central) during talks, but received no response and thus Viacom ceased transmission to DirecTV's 20 million subscribers. On July 11, in a counter response to DirecTV advising its subscribers to view original programming from the affected networks online, Viacom scaled back access to recent episodes of Viacom-owned program content available to the websites of its networks. Viacom described this as a "temporary slimdown" until a new carriage deal with DirecTV was reached. Viacom and DirecTV reached an agreement on July 20 to return the interrupted programming.
Copyright complaints against YouTube
In February 2007, Viacom sent upwards of 100,000 DMCA takedown notices to the video-sharing site YouTube. Of the 100,000 notices, approximately 60–70 non-infringing videos were removed under the auspices of copyright infringement.
On March 13, 2007, Viacom filed a US$1 billion legal claim (Viacom International Inc. v. YouTube, Inc.) against Google and YouTube alleging massive copyright infringement, alleging that users frequently uploaded copyrighted material to YouTube—enough to cause a hit in revenue for Viacom and a gain in advertisement revenue for YouTube. The complaint contended that almost 160,000 unauthorized clips of Viacom's programming were made available on YouTube and that these clips had collectively been viewed more than 1.5 billion times.
In July 2008, the case generated controversy when District Judge Louis Stanton ruled that YouTube was required to hand over data detailing the viewing habits of every user who had ever watched videos on the site. Judge Stanton rejected Viacom's request for YouTube to hand over the source code of its search engine system, saying that the code was a trade secret. Google and Viacom later agreed to allow Google to anonymize all the data before handing it over to Viacom. 
On June 23, 2010, Judge Stanton ruled in Google's favor in a motion for summary judgment, holding that Google was protected by provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, notwithstanding evidence of intentional copyright infringement. Viacom announced its intention to appeal the ruling.
Black Entertainment Television
Public Enemy rapper Chuck D, journalist George Curry, writer Keith Boykin, comic book creator Christopher Priest, filmmaker Spike Lee, Syracuse University professor of finance Dr. Boyce Watkins and cartoonist Aaron McGruder (who, in addition to numerous critical references throughout his series, The Boondocks, made a particular episode criticizing the channel), all have protested BET's programming and actions. As a result, BET heavily censors suggestive content from the videos that it airs, often with entire verses and scenes removed from certain rap videos. Furthermore, scholars within the black community maintain that BET perpetuates and justifies racism by affecting the interpersonal beliefs others may generalize about blacks, and also by affecting the psyche of its young viewers through its bombardment of negative images of blacks.
The New York Times reported that the Reverend Delman L. Coates and his organization Enough is Enough led protests every weekend outside the residences of BET executives against what they claim are negative stereotypes of black people perpetuated by BET music videos. Enough is Enough backed an April 2008 report titled The Rap on Rap by the Parents Television Council that claimed that BET rap programming, which they believed contained gratuitous sexual, violent, and profane content, was targeting children and teens.
BET announced in March 2010 that Gordon would return to the network to host "a variety of news programs and specials."
In a 2010 interview, BET co-founder Sheila Johnson said she herself is "ashamed" of what the network has become. "I don't watch it. I suggest to my kids that they don't watch it," she said. "When we started BET, it was going to be the Ebony magazine on television. We had public affairs programming. We had news... I had a show called Teen Summit, we had a large variety of programming, but the problem is that then the video revolution started up... And then something started happening, and I didn't like it at all. And I remember during those days we would sit up and watch these videos and decide which ones were going on and which ones were not. We got a lot of backlash from recording artists...and we had to start showing them. I didn't like the way women were being portrayed in these videos."
MTV Networks channels have been cited as suffering from channel drift. Music Television (as MTV was originally known) was originally a channel devoted to popular music videos upon its launch in 1981, but began adding entertainment and reality programs geared toward a young adult audience in the 1990s, beginning a progression toward its current focus of reality and scripted programming targeted primarily at teenagers and young adults. (The music videos transitioned to MTV2, then to MTV Hits, the current-day NickMusic.) Video Hits One likewise began as an outlet for adult contemporary music before transitioning to an urban pop culture channel as VH1; Country Music Television drifted to southern culture and general rerun programming as CMT; and The Nashville Network, perhaps the most dramatic, drifted to a male-heavy program lineup now known as Spike.
Comedy Central has been a frequent target of criticism from the conservative group Parents Television Council, which accuses them of bigotry and blasphemy, especially within the programs South Park, The Sarah Silverman Program, Halfway Home, and the annual "Roast" special. PTC has used their criticisms against Comedy Central for their support of the Family and Consumer Choice Act of 2007, which would allow American cable TV subscribers to choose which channels they subscribe to, and to persuade advertisers to stop advertising on the channel. PTC founder and former president L. Brent Bozell III has called the channel unfunny, claiming the channel has managed "to reach the top of its field in spite of – or, better put, because of – the network's sheer lack of comedic talent" by its "extensive reliance on shocking or disgusting humor". The channel has also received criticism from certain parents for airing advertisements for "Girls Gone Wild". The channel also airs the least cut version of the popular film Not Another Teen Movie, as well as uncut versions of films such as Coming to America, Dogma and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.
On April 21, 2010, Comedy Central censored the South Park episode, "201", in response to a death threat issued by users of a radical Muslim website over the episode's planned depiction of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, which led several newspaper columnists to condemn the network's actions as tantamount to abetting terrorism. Since then, as a result, neither "201" nor the episode that preceded it have been aired.
The name change to "Spike TV" was supposed to be official on June 16, 2003. However, on June 13, film director Spike Lee won a New York Supreme Court injunction preventing the name change. Lee claimed that because of his well-known popularity in Hollywood, viewers would therefore assume that he was associated with the new channel. Lee stated in court papers that: "The media description of this change of name, as well as comments made to me and my wife, confirmed what was obvious—that Spike TV referred to Spike Lee."
The channel had planned an official launch of its new name at a star-studded, televised party at the Playboy Mansion in mid-June. But due to Lee's injunction, the special—titled Party With Spike—had to be heavily edited and the impact of the event was considerably muted. During the lawsuit, even the name "TNN" was significantly scaled back, as logos and voice-overs referred to the channel only as "The First Network for Men".
Spike Jones Jr., son of comic musician Spike Jones, became a party of the lawsuit as part of Viacom's defense to protect the rights to his father's name. The suit was settled on July 8, 2003, and TNN was allowed to call itself Spike TV. In announcing the settlement, Lee admitted that he did not believe that the channel intentionally tried to trade on his name.
The name change became official on August 11, 2003.
In September 2005, all WWE (formerly the WWF) programming on Spike TV left the channel as a result of acrimonious contractual matters between WWE and Viacom. WWE Raw moved back to its original cable home, NBCUniversal's USA Network while WWE Sunday Night HEAT and WWE Velocity moved to WWE.com due to failure to gain a time slot for the shows in the United States. On October 1, 2005, wrestling promotion Total Nonstop Action Wrestling began airing its weekly program TNA Impact! in the Saturday night time slot formerly occupied by WWE Velocity. In WWE's last Raw broadcast on the channel, executives decided to censor WWE personalities whenever they tried to mention Raw's return to USA Network, scheduled for the following week. In what turned out to be a hectic night of sound suddenly vanishing, WWE's commentators finally succeeded in slipping the words "Next week on USA" past the censors at Spike TV, most likely due to Spike TV executives finally giving in. Spike was the only channel to air first-run matches from all of the major wrestling organizations in the last 15 years (WWF/WWE from 2000–2005, WCW in 2001 (including the Raw/Nitro simulcast and WCW-sanctioned matches during the Invasion storyline), ECW from 1999–2000, and TNA from 2005–present).
On October 15, 2005 Viacom acquired iFilm.com, which was initially launched in 1997. After acquiring the website for $49 million, it was eventually re-branded to Spike.com and provided hosting of user-uploaded videos.
Music & Logo Group
The channel has been a target of criticism by various groups about programming choices, social issues, political correctness, sensitivity, censorship, and a perceived negative social influence on young people. Portions of the content of MTV's programs and productions have come under controversy in the general news media and among social groups that have taken offense.
During MTV's first few years on the air, very few black artists were included in rotation on the channel. Those who were in MTV's rotation included Eddy Grant, Tina Turner, Donna Summer, Musical Youth, Herbie Hancock, Grace Jones, and Prince. The very first non-white act played on MTV in the U.S. was UK band The Specials, which featured an integrated line-up of white and black musicians and vocalists. The Specials' video "Rat Race" was played as the 58th video on the station's first day of broadcasting.
MTV rejected other black artists' videos, such as Rick James' "Super Freak", because they didn't fit the channel's carefully selected AOR format at the time. The exclusion enraged James; he publicly advocated the addition of more black artists' videos on the channel. Rock legend David Bowie also questioned MTV's lack of black artists during an on-air interview with VJ Mark Goodman in 1983. MTV's original head of talent and acquisition, Carolyn B. Baker, who was black, had questioned why the definition of music had to be so narrow, as had a few others outside the network. "The party line at MTV was that we weren't playing black music because of the "research"," said Baker years later. "But the research was based on ignorance... we were young, we were cutting edge. We didn't have to be on the cutting edge of racism." Nevertheless, it was Baker who had personally rejected Rick James' video for Super Freak "because there were half-naked women in it, and it was a piece of c--p. As a black woman, I did not want that representing my people as the first black video on MTV."
The network's director of music programming Buzz Brindle told an interviewer in 2006, "MTV was originally designed to be a rock music channel. It was difficult for MTV to find African American artists whose music fit the channel's format that leaned toward rock at the outset." Writers Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum noted that the channel "aired videos by plenty of white artists who didn't play rock." Andrew Goodwin later wrote, "[MTV] denied racism, on the grounds that it merely followed the rules of the rock business (which were, nonetheless, the consequence of a long history of racism)." MTV senior executive vice president Les Garland complained decades later, "The worst thing was that "racism" b------t... there were hardly any videos being made by black artists. Record companies weren't funding them. They never got charged with racism."
Before 1983, Michael Jackson also struggled to receive airtime on MTV. To resolve the struggle and finally "break the color barrier," the president of CBS Records at the time, Walter Yetnikoff, denounced MTV in a strong, profane statement, threatening to take away MTV's ability to play any of the record label's music videos. However, Les Garland, then acquisitions head, said he decided to air Jackson's "Billie Jean" video without pressure from CBS. This was contradicted by CBS head of Business Affairs David Benjamin in Vanity Fair.
According to The Austin Chronicle, Jackson's video for the song "Billie Jean" was "the video that broke the color barrier, even though the channel itself was responsible for erecting that barrier in the first place." But change was not immediate. "Billie Jean" was not added to MTV's "medium rotation" playlist (two to three airings per day) until after it had already reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. A month later, it was bumped up into "heavy rotation," one week before the MTV debut of Jackson's "Beat It" video. Both videos were played several times a day for the next two months; by early summer, the channel had ceased playing both songs. But the impact was permanent. When Jackson's elaborate video for "Thriller" was released late in the year, which raised the ambition bar for what a video could be, the network's support for it was total; subsequently more pop and R & B videos were played on MTV.
Eventually, videos from the emerging genre of rap and hip hop would also begin to enter rotation on MTV. A majority of the rap artists appearing on MTV in the mid-1980s, such as Run-DMC, The Fat Boys, Whodini, L.L. Cool J and the Beastie Boys, were from the East Coast.
Video director Don Letts has a different view of the timeline, saying, "People often say "Billie Jean" was the first black music video on MTV. "Pass the Dutchie" was first. Because they were little and spoke in funny British accents, Musical Youth were deemed as non-threatening, and therefore non-black."
In 1983, Rolling Stone's Steven Levy wrote, "MTV's greatest achievement has been to coax rock & roll into the video arena where you can't distinguish between entertainment and the sales pitch." The Dead Kennedys released a song in 1985 titled "MTV, Get Off The Air".
MTV has edited a number of music videos to remove references to drugs, sex, violence, weapons, racism, homophobia, or advertising. Many music videos aired on the channel were censored, moved to late-night rotation, or banned entirely from the channel.
In the 1980s, parent-media watchdog groups such as the Parents Music Resource Center criticized MTV over certain music videos that were claimed to have explicit imagery of satanism. MTV developed a strict policy on refusal to air videos that may depict devil worship or anti-religious themes. This policy led MTV to ban music videos such as "Jesus Christ Pose" by Soundgarden in 1991 and "Megalomaniac" by Incubus in 2004.
Although MTV reached its 30th year of broadcasting in 2011, the channel itself passed over this milestone in favor of its current programming schedule. The channel instead aired its 30th anniversary celebrations on its sister networks MTV2 and VH1 Classic. Nathaniel Brown, senior vice president of communications for MTV, confirmed that there were no plans for an on-air MTV celebration similar to the channel's 20th anniversary. Brown explained, "MTV as a brand doesn't age with our viewers. We are really focused on our current viewers, and our feeling was that our anniversary wasn't something that would be meaningful to them, many of whom weren't even alive in 1981."
Despite targeted efforts to play certain types of music videos in limited rotation, MTV greatly reduced its overall rotation of music videos by the mid-2000s. While music videos were featured on MTV up to eight hours per day in 2000, the year 2008 saw an average of just three hours of music videos per day on MTV. The rise of the Internet as a convenient outlet for the promotion and viewing of music videos signaled this reduction.
As the decade progressed, MTV continued to play some music videos instead of relegating them exclusively to its sister channels, but around this time, the channel began to air music videos only in the early morning hours or in a condensed form on Total Request Live. As a result of these programming changes, Justin Timberlake challenged MTV to "play more damn videos!" while giving an acceptance speech at the 2007 Video Music Awards.
Despite the challenge from Timberlake, MTV continued to decrease its total rotation time for music videos in 2007, and the channel eliminated its long-running special tags for music videos such as "Buzzworthy" (for under-represented artists), "Breakthrough" (for visually stunning videos), and "Spankin' New" (for brand new videos). Additionally, the historic Kabel typeface, which MTV displayed at the beginning and end of all music videos since 1981, was phased out in favor of larger text and less information about the video's record label and director. The classic font can still be seen in "prechyroned" versions of old videos on sister network VH1 Classic, which had their title information recorded onto the same tape as the video itself.
Prior to its finale in 2008, MTV's main source of music videos was Total Request Live, airing four times per week, featuring short clips of music videos along with VJs and guests. MTV was experimenting at the time with new ideas for music programs to replace the purpose of TRL but with a new format.
In the summer of 2008, MTV premiered new music video programming blocks called FNMTV and a weekly special event called FNMTV Premieres, hosted from Los Angeles by Pete Wentz of the band Fall Out Boy, which was designed to premiere new music videos and have viewers provide instantaneous feedback.
The FNMTV Premieres event ended before the 2008 Video Music Awards in September. With the exception of a holiday themed episode in December 2008 and an unrelated Spring Break special in March 2009 with the same title, FNMTV Premieres never returned to the channel's regular program schedule, leaving MTV without any music video programs hosted by VJs for the first time in its history.
Shortly after Michael Jackson died on June 25, 2009, the channel aired several hours of Jackson's music videos, accompanied by live news specials featuring reactions from MTV personalities and other celebrities. The temporary shift in MTV's programming culminated the following week with the channel's live coverage of Jackson's memorial service. MTV aired similar one-hour live specials with music videos and news updates following the death of Whitney Houston on February 11, 2012, and the death of Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys on May 4, 2012.
In 2007, MTV aired the reality show A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila, chronicling MySpace sensation Tila Tequila's journey to find a companion. Her bisexuality played into the series – both male and female contestants were vying for love – and was the subject of criticism. It was "...the #2 show..." airing on MTV at that time, behind The Hills. A spin-off series from A Shot at Love, titled That's Amoré!, followed a similar pursuit from previous A Shot at Love contestant Domenico Nesci.
In late 2009, MTV shifted its focus back to Real World-style reality programming with the premiere of Jersey Shore, a program that brought high ratings to the channel and also caused controversy due to some of its content.
With backlash towards what some consider too much superficial content on the network, a recent New York Times article also stated the intention of MTV to shift its focus towards more socially conscious media, which the article labels "MTV for the Obama era." Shows in that vein included T.I.'s Road to Redemption and Fonzworth Bentley's finishing school show From G's to Gents.
The channel also began showing presidential campaign commercials for the first time during the 2008 U.S. presidential election. This has led to criticism from the right, with Jonah Goldberg opining that "MTV serves as the Democrats' main youth outreach program."
VH1 endured criticism for the short-lived Music Behind Bars, which mainly focuses on musicians in custody. Critics have claimed prisoners, mainly those convicted of murder, should not be entitled to any exposure, especially nationally.
Kids & Family Group
On July 11, 2012, Nickelodeon, along with many other Viacom channels, were temporarily dropped from DirecTV's line up due to ongoing contract negotiations between DirecTV and Viacom. The removal resulted in a 33% drop in Nickelodeon's daily ratings. The channels returned on July 20, 2012.
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