MTV, VH1 and CMT are going back to their roots on the Fourth of July.
The networks said Wednesday they will throw a "Music Independence Day" party that day, showing videos and giving exposure to artists at a time it can be hard for them to break through to a larger audience.
Each of the networks began their lives as music video channels but shifted to other, more lucrative programming through the years. Music programming is limited now -- a wee hours dance party on MTV, the "Jump Start" morning show on VH1, a weekend Hot 20 on the country-oriented CMT. Much of their music content now is concentrated online or on digital channels like VH1 Classic.
"This harkens back to the core of these music brands," said Van Toffler, head of the Viacom Networks.
MTV on July Fourth will have hours devoted to particular music genres, highlighting artists like Justin Timberlake, Bruno Mars and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. VH1 will show videos and performances from the likes of Alicia Keys, Pink and Maroon 5, and telecast a live concert that night from Philadelphia featuring the Roots and John Mayer. CMT will offer a "barbecue playlist" of artists like the Avett Brothers, Carrie Underwood and Luke Bryan.
The networks are also offering emerging bands a chance to set up their own online pages on the Artist Platform and compete to have their videos shown on TV. Even if they don't make it on the air, it's good exposure and provides a gathering place for fans, Toffler said.
If a bluegrass band earns enough to buy a new tour bus or a rap act purchases new equipment because of the exposure, then Toffler said he will consider it a success.
At a time it can be confusing for fans to seek out new music, the special event emphasizes the networks' ability to curate material for fans, he said.
"In part it is to remind people what an immersive experience we can provide so people can hear the music and the artists and the stories behind the artists," he said.
There's not much for the networks to lose from such an event. The first week of July is traditionally the lightest week of the year for television watching, primarily because so many people are outside or doing other things. The networks will offer themselves up as soundtracks for Fourth of July parties.
"It is a celebration and we hope we can do it more often," Toffler said.
Mark Goodman, one of the original MTV VJs,, "I always tell people, 'Look, even if MTV had never changed formats, if it was 24-hour videos -- it's not like they'd be playing Warrant and Spandau Ballet," Quinn said. "They'd still be playing Chris Brown and One Direction. People of our generation would still be going, 'It's not the same.'"
"What's the point?" asked Goodman. "I think MTV as it was then was around today, it wouldn't be any reason for it to exist. We got VEVO, and YouTube -- whatever video you want, whenever you want, and as many times as you want. MTV has been shown to be pretty smart as far as that goes. There is no reason for that. It's not a bad or good thing, it's just is."