MTV is having an identity crisis. On Saturday, network president Chris McCarthy announced that MTV is rebooting Total Request Live, the flagship weekly video countdown show that debuted in 1998. The news comes just weeks after MTV’s surprising shuttering of MTV News just one year after its reboot, a decision that left some of the internet’s most prestigious culture writers without a home.
At the time, MTV explained that the decision was part of a new strategy that would involve a greater focus on video content, in an attempt to attract millennials. On Saturday, McCarthy doubled down. “MTV at its best—whether it’s news, whether it’s a show, whether it’s a docu-series—is about amplifying young people’s voices,” McCarthy told the New York Times. “We put young people on the screen, and we let the world hear their voices. We shouldn’t be writing 6,000-word articles on telling people how to feel.”
But MTV’s decision to bring back a show that was notable for the way it gave fans access to the day’s biggest stars, and as a hub for the most requested videos, feels misguided to say the least. When TRL reached its cultural apex in the early Aughts, it did so off the backs of pop icons like Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and the Backstreet Boys. An appearance opposite Carson Daly was usually the quickest (and sometimes only) way fans could see—and if they were lucky enough, directly communicate with—their favorite stars.
That’s no longer the case. The rise of social media has given fans an all-access, 24/7 pass to their favorite performers. Why would we watch Katy Perry visit Times Square for an hour when sit down when we can just watch her own 72-hour livestream instead?
It’s also worth-noting that young people no longer consume content the way they did when TRL was at the height of its popularity. Chances are, if it runs longer than the length of your average Instagram video, it’s too long. Even traditional late night television interviews are broken up into easily digestible snippets to be consumed on YouTube. And we haven’t even touched on the fact that music videos are nowhere near as culturally impactful as they once were. When was the last time a music video generated as much buzz as Spears’ “Slave 4 U” video? Miley Cyrus’ clip for “Wrecking Ball” or Beyonce’s “Formation”-Lemonade one-two punch are the only ones that come to mind. Those are exceptions, not rules.
MTV has yet to announce the show’s format other than the fact that it will feature five hosts instead of one and that, like the original, it will be filmed in a Times Square studio. For MTV’s sake, we hope the similarities will end there.