Could it be the end of the televisionmusic video era?
Yesterday, news circulated that the hosts of BET’s long-running countdown show, 106th & Park, were preparing to depart from the program. Terrence J and Rosci Diaz have been at the helm of 106th & Park for more than six years, having replaced the original hosts of the popular show, A.J. and Free, in 2006. Now, both are reportedly moving on to focus on their acting careers, leaving BET the task of finding new hosts for an aging video show format aimed at finicky young audiences.
Now in its 12th year, 106th & Park is the last man standing when it comes to music video countdown shows. It’s easy to recall shows like the Video Soul Top 20 or the weekly Rap City countdown, which had their heyday in the 1990s and early 2000s. In 1998, MTV introduced a live, interactive element to the countdown format with the wildly-popular TRL (or Total Request Live), a show that let teeny-boppers set the trends for pop music and launched the careers of N*Sync, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. BET upended that format with the introduction of 106th & Park, taking TRL’s model and making it more urban, catering to the edgier side of youth culture.
TRL was the powerhouse that 106th was eventually able to take down. In a recent interview with The Source, BET’s president of Music Programming and Specials, Stephen Hill, says he still has the bottle of champagne that was popped the day 106th surpassed TRL in the ratings.
“We knew amongst ourselves we had something very special for youth culture, which was on display everyday… I can say 106 & Park for its popularity, its quality and longevity are far surpass [sic] what we originally thought in the creative process literally at 106 & Park,” said Hill.
106th managed to take an already viewer-centric format and make it even more interactive, giving fans the chance to perform in segments like “Wild Out Wednesday” and the ever-popular “Freestyle Friday.” Those segments may have been one factor that allowed the show to hold onto its audience for so long. The other? The show’s hosts — hip, fresh-faced people of color who mirrored the young audience’s love for music.
To that end, Terrence J and Rosci have managed to connect with young audiences for six years (much like their predecessors, A.J. and Free, who older viewers of 106th often remember fondly). But charismatic hosts can only do so much to hold up a show with a format that’s rapidly becoming obsolete. The fact is that most videos are now available on demand, on the web, and viewers can access them from so many different devices — laptops, mobile phones and iPads — that waiting till 6 p.m. on any given weekday to see a video seems illogical.
Add to that the fact that the days of the “exclusive television music video premiere” are over. Artists no longer need cable TV when VEVO (a music website in partnership with YouTube) can easily draw hundreds of thousands of viewers within hours. Prime example: Rihanna’s latest video, “Where Have You Been?,” tallied nearly five million views within 24 hours of its premiere on VEVO, breaking the site’s record. A television countdown show can’t promise those kinds of numbers these days.
BET, however, is making efforts to keep its long-running show relevant in the hyper-mobile digital era. The 106th and Park iPhone and Android app allows viewers to interact with the show through tweets and location tracking, and it offers yet another platform where viewers can access clips, interviews and show schedules. BET has been also relying on social media to keep its viewers engaged in the show, soliciting viewers for video suggestions and comments to show on-air via Twitter.
But even with the best digital media strategy, can a show survive without the personalities that made it so popular? TRL lost some of its steam after host Carson Daly left in 2003. 106th & Park was fortunate enough to get a second wind after the departure of the very-popular A.J. and Free. Now, with both Terrence J and Rocsi leaving to pursue acting careers, BET has to decide whether there’s a future for what’s now an almost-retro video show.
Veronica Miller can be found on Twitter at @veronicamarche.