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MTV's 'Soundtrack' jumps on stage

One part social network and one part pop culture discovery hub, this new site from MTV refocuses the company's wayward vision back to music.

MTV might've strayed away from music these days--My Super Sweet Sixteen, anyone?--but the entertainment mainstay's latest project aims to both bring it back to its roots and propel it into the social Web. Ambitious, yes.

'The Hills': Now telling you what you want to listen to. MTV

It's called "Soundtrack," and it's an "interactive music guide for TV." If you're watching a heated moment of cattiness between Lauren and Audrina on The Hills and are dying to know what song's playing in the background, you can log on and find out exactly what it was. Then you can purchase the MP3, thanks to MTV's partnership with music service Rhapsody, as well as look up more soundtrack information from past programming. You can, of course, network with other members--this is powered by Flux, the social-networking technology that MTV Networks parent company Viacom built when it acquired a start-up called Tagworld.

Radio stations have been doing the "look up a song" gimmick for years, which makes it not particularly jaw-dropping for MTV to institute the same thing. But it does tap into a host of extremely popular and influential cable shows (for better or for worse) and cross-promotion on TV will likely boost traffic. Plus, it should be said that television soundtracks have become a crucial spot for music discovery--remember when The O.C. propelled California indie-pop bands to the heights of coolness a few years ago?

But MTV also hopes that Soundtrack, which will be worked into the main site soon, will become an important promotional hub. There's a ranking of the top songs and artists--and it's a lot more obscure than iTunes or MTV's own TRL charts--and indie bands can create profiles to amass fans.

The indie band promotion may remind you a bit of PureVolume, which thrived for a while as a music promotion and discovery site before MySpace and an army of popular music blogs far surpassed it in influence. And MTV, too, has heretofore been a series of misses in the Web 2.0 space: Viacom lost out to News Corp. in the bidding for MySpace, which had fast become the Web's center for finding new music. The company also failed to jump on the music blog trend, which start-up Buzznet has quickly been amassing. The Twittering Moon Man didn't do much either.

Soundtrack, however, is MTV's most targeted and relevant Web 2.0 effort yet, and will likely be an appreciated attempt to bring at least some of the network's focus back to music. Considering how many people watch The Hills, it could make a difference.

Let's also hope MTV somehow ties Soundtrack into its most shining success of the digital age: video game Rock Band.