For all those Kremlin rockers screaming "I want my MTV!" their wish has come true.
Starting this weekend, that most American of youthful tube treats - music television - will be beamed to 88 million Soviet households on primetime TV.It took the New York-based cable music video channel two years to reach a deal with the Soviet television company Gostelradio creating the show, which will include several commercials from such U.S. advertisers as LA Gear and Wrangler. The current contract is to run for a year.
"It's sort of another nail in the coffin in the Cold War," said Tom Freston, chairman of MTV Networks. "It's certainly a snapshot of a subculture (viewers) have seen very little of."
The show and commercials are spoken entirely in English, with only Russian-language subtitles to guide young rockers.
MTV is the latest in a string of U.S. cultural icons welcomed by the Soviets since they began liberalizing their economy in the late 1980s. Just in the past year, purveyors of Americanism such as McDonald's and Pizza Hut have set up shop in the Soviet Union.
The MTV programming, included in a popular youth-oriented Soviet program called "Glance," consists of two music video shows produced by MTV Europe. The two together total one hour.
One is "European Top 20 Countdown," already seen in 24 other countries including some in Eastern Europe; the other is "The Party Zone." This weekend's debut of "The Party Zone" features American rappers LL Cool J and Young MC.
While the program lacks any Soviet rock bands, MTV officials say they expect to include some later.
None of the show's advertisers is currently distributing products in the Soviet Union, although Wrangler and Benetton are expected to begin shortly, Freston said.
"There's a lot of brand recognition among Soviet consumers for goods they can't legally acquire and that in the near future they may be able to legally acquire," said Thomas Remington, an expert on Soviet life at Emory University in Atlanta.
For its debut on the show, LA Gear is showing a 30-second spot starring Michael Jackson that is already shown in the United States and other countries. The ad has music only, no dialogue, so Soviet viewers should have little trouble comprehending it, said Tom Keefer, vice president of international marketing at the Los Angeles-based LA Gear.
For the right to air its programming, MTV will pay Gostelradio an undisclosed amount of cash and leave two minutes' worth of programming time that the Soviet television company can sell on its own. MTV retains six minutes' worth of commercial time.
In addition, MTV is currently looking into the possibility of running its programming on a 24-hour basis on a 100,000-subscriber cable television system in Leningrad, as well as on several smaller cable systems, officials said.