Madonna has never had a problem working the media. Lately the pop icon is proving new media is her playground, too.
Late one recent night, MTV and VH-1 presented a one-time-only broadcast of the “banned” video of Madonna’s newest single, “What It Feels Like for a Girl.” The Viacom Inc. (VIA) -owned cable networks deemed the video, which depicts a nihilistic Madonna taking an elderly woman on a crime and vandalism spree, too violent to include in their regular rotation.
Though its shelf life on the two cable channels was brief, the video, directed by hubby Guy Richie (who also directed the films Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels), is getting plenty of play on the Internet. Madonna’s label, Warner Bros. Records Inc., struck an exclusive deal with America On-line, which was to stream the video on demand from its AOL Music channel for a short period. Warner Bros. will then likely shop the video around to additional on-line outlets such as RealNetworks Inc. (RNWK) or Launch.com.
“Our job as a record company is to get exposure for the video,” said Liz Rosenberg, Madonna’s publicist. So when the label couldn’t get Viacom to commit to showing the video, it started talking to other outlets, she said.
AOL isn’t a surprising choice of venue. Warner Bros. parent company’s, Time Warner, completed its merger with the on-line behemoth early this year. The two companies already collaborated on a Madonna promotion in September, when AOL radio property Spinner.com streamed the artist’s album Music to tens of thousands of on-line listeners the day before the CD was released in stores.
It’s debatable whether the cable channels overreacted to Madonna’s car-robbing, gas-station-exploding protagonist in “What It Feels Like for a Girl.” But that controversy is nothing but good news for AOL, which is enjoying the attention from Madonna fanatics and curious viewers who swarmed AOL’s music channel.
At press time, the company was unwilling to share any data on exactly how many streams of the video have been served. But the audience is potentially huge, considering at least 9 million viewers logged on to MSN.co.uk, the U.K. arm of Microsoft (MSFT) ‘s Web portal, for an exclusive Madonna concert that was Webcast in December.
The Web has been a haven for controversial material that otherwise wouldn’t make it past TV censors. In an incident similar to the current fracas, four years ago MTV stopped showing the video for “Smack My Bitch Up” by Prodigy, amid complaints from women’s groups for its depiction of women being groped and beaten. That video found new life on JamTV.com, which is now owned by EMusic. (Incidentally, Prodigy is signed to Madonna’s label Maverick Records.)
Meanwhile, cable channels outside the U.S. – including Canada’s MuchMusic and Channel 4 in the U.K. – will continue to air “What It Feels Like for a Girl.”
Brian Wenke contributed to this report.