Early years (1983–1991)
CMTV, an initialism of Country Music Television, was founded by Glenn D. Daniels, the owner of Video World Productions in Hendersonville, Tennessee. Daniels put together the ownership group of Telestar Corporation and the Blinder Robinson & Company investment bank in a three-way split. Daniels also served as the program director and the first president of the network.
The network launched on March 5, 1983, at 6:19 p.m. CT, beating its chief competitor, TNN, to air by two days. The first video clip to air on CMT was Faron Young's 1971 hit "It's Four in the Morning". The following summer, MTV filed a trademark infringement lawsuit over the initials CMTV, and the network changed its name to simply CMT.
Gaylord years (1991–1997)
The network's fourth logo ran from 1991 to 2004.
In 1991, Opryland USA and its owner Gaylord Entertainment Company acquired CMT in a $34 million deal. The network was sold by a group led by radio station owner Robert Sillerman and record producer James Guercio. Opryland USA and owner Gaylord also owned CMT's competitor The Nashville Network.
In October 1992, CMT launched its first international channel, CMT Europe, as part of the Sky Multichannels package. By 1998, Gaylord reported $10 million in losses from CMT Europe and decided to cease broadcasting the declining network on March 31, 1998. Gaylord had planned to emulate the successful model created by E!, by selling large programming blocks to other European channels, but these plans never occurred.
In 1994, Gaylord made its first major format change for CMT by adding several new music video programs, including Big Ticket, Jammin' Country, CMT Signature Series, CMT Delivery Room, and CMT Top 12 Countdown. All shows eventually were cancelled by 2001.
In 1995, CMT dropped all videos by Canadian artists without U.S. record contracts in response to the network being replaced in Canada by Calgary, Alberta-based New Country Network. By March 1996, CMT had eventually returned the dropped videos to its playlist after reaching an agreement to acquire a 20% ownership of New Country Network, in addition to renaming it CMT.
CBS/Viacom years (1997–present)
CMT's offices are located at Viacom's headquarters in New York City, but has additional offices in downtown Nashville, Tennessee
(as seen here).
In 1997, both CMT and TNN were sold to Westinghouse, then-owner of CBS for a reported $1.5 billion. The acquisition of the two country-themed networks, along with the formation of the ill-fated CBS Eye on People network, and two regional sports networks (the Baltimore-area Home Team Sports, now Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic, and Midwest Sports Channel in the Twin Cities, now Fox Sports North) formed the CBS Cable division, based in Nashville at the Grand Ole Opry and a Charlotte office at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
In 1999, Viacom acquired CBS, assuming ownership of CMT and TNN and folding them into the MTV Networks stable. The resulting moves in 2000 led to the closing of the CBS Charlotte office, while Viacom moved TNN's operations from Nashville to its own headquarters in New York City and changed its format, eventually renaming it The National Network and then reformatting it again as Spike; it was renamed as the Paramount Network in January 2018. CMT also experienced a migration of its mainline operations from Nashville to New York (although their Nashville office building was kept as a secondary operation), and experienced a format change; being modeled after sister networks MTV and VH1 to include series and movies, in addition to music videos. Over time, the number of music videos on the network had steadily decreased with the late May 2006 rebranding of digital cable network VH1 Country to CMT Pure Country, with music video programming on CMT eventually being relegated mainly to the overnight and morning hours (similar to MTV and VH1). Also, on January 3, 2006, the original Viacom split into two different companies: One being the legal successor to Viacom, CBS Corporation, and the other being the 'new' Viacom, with CMT, Spike TV and the MTV family of networks being part of the latter company.
Despite the decrease in music videos, CMT has experienced significant ratings gains since its acquisition by MTV Networks in 1999. By 2007, the channel was available in more than 83 million homes. As of 2009, the network now reaches 88 million homes.
On April 4, 2012, CMT announced its first cartoon series, Bounty Hunters, featuring the voices of Jeff Foxworthy, Larry the Cable Guy and Bill Engvall who also serve as executive producers. CMT also announced that it would air Trinity 911, a 10-episode "workplace docu-comedy" that follows the police force in a small Texas town. Trinity 911 was later renamed Big Texas Heat and removed from the schedule after airing four episodes.
On June 10, 2016, CMT announced that they would pick up the primetime network series Nashville after ABC's cancellation of the series, and renewed the series for a fifth full season of 22 episodes; it will continue to be streamed beginning the day after an episode's first airing on Hulu. In 2017, when the network announced a transition into an unscripted programming-oriented schedule, Nashville's sixth season (which CMT renewed) would also be its last; Nashville was CMT's last original scripted show at the time.
As part of its shift back to unscripted programming, CMT announced Music City in September 2017, a reality series created by Adam DiVello of The Hills and Laguna Beach fame. Set in Nashville, Tennessee, the show focuses on eight friends as they try to make it in Nashville, including Bryant Lowry, drummer in up and coming Nashville pop band
Jet Black Alley Cat. The series premiered on March 1, 2018.