VH1 was originally created not by MTV but by Ted Turner

Back in MTV’s early days, the television channel still played music videos. In fact that’s all it played. But while many believe that it created VH1 as a second in-house channel aimed at a different mix of music fans, the history of VH1 reveals something very different. Founded in 1981, MTV initially had a monopoly on the format it had created. But in 1985 Ted Turner, having already created TBS and CNN, decided to create an MTV competitor. He called it Cable Music Channel (no surprise, as CNN stood for Cable News Network) and abbreviated it CMC. In order to differentiate the channel, Turner sidestepped the rock music which dominated the MTV rotation at the time, and instead programmed CMC with softer rock as well as non-rock mainstream genres. The channel ended up lasting a month…

What Ted Turner quickly found out is that there wasn’t a lot of money to be made in playing music videos. The change in songs every four minutes or so meant that viewers were likely to flip away if they didn’t like the song which was coming on next. And unlike radio listeners in a car who are a captive audience and likely to come back to their favorite stations a song or two later, television viewers had an entire spectrum of TV channels to choose from. Lose a CMC viewer because of one song which disagreed with them, and they might end up landing on a TV show instead, not coming back for an hour or more. CMC faced the more immediate problem of not being on enough cable carriers to make enough money to cover its operating expenses. Despite landing a couple million viewers in his first month, the quickly amassing losses caused Turner to sell CMC to MTV to get out from underneath it. For his troubles he made a million dollars. Rather than kill off the upstart competitor, MTV decided to keep CMC around and use its existing deals with the cable operators to get its new addition on the air in more markets. It also decided to rename Turner’s music channel VH1…

Most viewers didn’t know any different, having never heard of CMC, and believed VH1 was an in-house MTV creation. Both networks coexisted and cross promoted each other for another twenty years until they succumbed to what Turner had figured out back in the day: it’s more difficult to make money by airing music videos than by airing traditional television content. As such, MTV and VH1 both eventually shifted to a mostly reality television programming docket, with music videos now mostly shown only in after-hours clusters. Oh and by the way, for those curious, the jokes about the M in MTV no longer standing for music are in fact correct: originally “MTV” was just an abbreviation for Music Television, the official name of the channel. But in 2010 it officially became known as MTV, ditching the word “Music” from its name just as it had already ditched music from its lineup.