Has MTV Lost Its Appeal?

Described as a "train wreck," "incoherent" and "weak" by gossip bloggers and TV critics, this year's MTV Video Music Awards has many people wondering whether the longtime popular cable network has completely lost its appeal.

The ratings for the VMAs over the past few years have steadily declined, but noteworthy events like 2003's kiss between Britney Spears and Madonna, and a celebrity-studded red carpet were elements obviously missing from the latest VMA installment.

MTV programming isn't what it used to be, pop culture experts told ABCNews.com, but then again, neither is the entertainment industry.

Viewers have many more options for entertainment, and no longer rely solely on MTV, making the audience even harder to impress and the seats even harder to fill with celebrities who are spread thin across various outlets.

"[MTV's] biggest problem is that, in 1981, they were the only game in town, there was nothing like them," said Bob Thompson, pop culture guru and professor at Syracuse University.

"But that bird has flown. In the 80s, if you were a kid, MTV was where you went," said Thompson. "Now, kids have Comedy Central, Adult Swim on the Cartoon Network — there are so many other places providing entertainment.

"We're kind of waiting for the big VMA moment, the kisses, and that sort of stuff," he said. "I'm not sure that we saw that sort of stuff [this year]. What is it that you do to make the VMAs have the kind of juice and voltage that it had years ago? I'm not sure there's an answer to that."

MTV representatives were unable to be reached for comment Monday regarding the show's success.

Timberlake: 'Play More Videos'

Justin Timberlake, who took home four awards, including male artist of the year, may have the answer. He mentioned twice during the show that he thinks MTV should play more music videos and fewer reality shows.

"We don't want to see the Simpsons on reality television," said Timberlake, referring to Jessica and Ashlee Simpson, both of whom had popular reality shows on MTV.

Since MTV premiered in 1981 and played the first-ever music video, "Video Killed the Radio Star," reality television programming — sparked by the success of "The Real World" — has taken over as the main source of revenue for the network.

"I don't think MTV is ever going to reach the cultural heights where it was in the 1980s," said Thompson. "I would be looking for the next 'Real World,' or the next 'Super Sweet 16' — I don't think I'd be looking for the next music video. What makes these cable networks work is a few good hits. Nothing is the same as getting a big hit that everyone is talking about."

Timberlake's pleas for the return to the 80s, experts say, is something MTV executives will have to consider when they try to rebound from the dismal performances and attendance of this year's VMAs.

"MTV has been having an identity crisis for years," said Johanna Piazza, an entertainment reporter for the Daily News, who covered the VMAs. "It's essentially an outlet for reality TV programming, and they have to figure out where their identity is going. Do they want to go back to their roots and be a music television provider? If I had to guess, they'll stay with reality TV."

"The 'Hills' girls were the one brand that MTV can still count on to bring in viewers," said Piazza, who said she thought the VMAs were the worst she's ever seen. "They were probably the biggest MTV celebrities they had there last night."

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