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The Sydney Morning Herald

Ladies, it's for you click onto something comfortable

Author: Bernard Zuel
Date: 01/12/2000
Words: 631
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: Metropolitan
Page: 16
Very early tomorrow, music television discovers the beauty of John Howard programming.

At 4am a new music channel on Foxtel, MusicMax, will launch, testing the theory already given a run at the past two Federal elections, and exemplified on pay TV channels such as TV1, that Australians prefer to be relaxed and comfortable rather than excited or challenged, with programming on the basis of something old and something ... well, old.

This is a channel that will be, says overseeing program director, Mary Datoc, the TV equivalent of classic hits radio the high-rating, revenue-generating land of stress-free familiarity.

``Every song you will see is a hit or would have been a hit," says Datoc. ``A lot of it will be gold tracks, classic hits from the Beatles to Bob Marley to John Farnham, together with ... contemporary hits like Madison Avenue and Vanessa Amorosi, songs that people out there are pretty much familiar with.

``Every song you see, you'll go, `Yep, I know this one; I recognise this one; I remember this one', as opposed to, `That was an obscure release from a Melbourne indie band in the early '80s'," Datoc says.

As with classic hits radio, MusicMax is aimed at women a demographic not yet convinced by pay TV. The target audience is women aged 25 upwards, the people whom pay TV's heavy marketing of sport has not persuaded to switch over from free-to-air. It's part of a push by Foxtel, which tomorrow also relaunches FX as a women's channel and soon will broadcast a fashion channel.

``MusicMax's audience will be ideally a 30-year-old female who loves music, buys maybe a CD a month, and who is interested in music but not an expert," explains Datoc. ``Obviously someone with a passion but it doesn't rule their world. Looking at the actual profile of the woman who will be using MusicMax, there will be times when she sits down and watches it intently and reminisces about a song that was huge five years ago. But she's a busy person with a busy lifestyle, so a lot of people will treat MusicMax as something in the background as they go about their daily chores or daily work."

The move by Foxtel is a two-edged sword for record companies. While the classic hits format will help keep the back catalogues of big-name artists ticking over, it removes an avenue for bringing new artists to the public's attention, artists whose market is older than the under-19s targetted by Foxtel's original- music channel, Channel V.

In recent years, pay TV has been seen by record companies as the only chance to circumvent the narrow programming of commercial radio, where even the stations purportedly devoted to playing new music have playlists dominated by old favourites. It's a situation that has prompted the likes of Jimmy Barnes and John Farnham to question why their new songs are being ignored by radio while their hits of a decade ago or more receive high rotation.

The other losers in the establishment of MusicMax are adults who may like to hear the occasional song written some time after their waistlines thickened and their hair thinned what is known in the real world as ``new music", a term not often used on classic hits radio. They may have to rely on MusicCountry, the pay TV channel formerly known as Country Music Television, which recently changed format to incorporate folk, roots and rock alongside country music.

There is good news amid the litany of conservatism and pred-ictability of MusicMax: ``It will be completely presenter-free," Datoc says. ``The only faces you will see on screen are the artists."

Sorry about that, Molly.

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