'Long Tail' Online Strategy Boosts MTV Awards Audience

Number of Streaming Video Views Rivals On-Air Version

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- As of Aug. 9, MTV's Video Music Awards content has initiated more than 11 million video downloads on its broadband channel, Overdrive -- another signal that the Internet is rapidly changing the way TV is consumed.

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Although the show premiered to disappointing ratings -- according to Nielsen Media Research, its 8 million viewers were 22% below last year's total -- the content is thriving online, where it will be available until Sept. 28.

'Surprised and excited'
"We've been surprised and excited at how much momentum this has gained," said Christina Norman, president of MTV. "Not just VMA stuff but original content that was created by Overdrive."

The popularity of MTV's online VMA content follows on the footsteps of AOL's coverage of the Live 8 concert earlier this summer that many called a watershed moment for airing video content over the Internet. While MTV and VH1 were both criticized for their TV coverage of Live 8, AOL was lauded for offering up the entire concert for six weeks after the event.

According to MTV, its decision to offer the entire VMA show online wasn't a response to the Live 8 reaction. In fact, using the VMAs -- "our Super Bowl," Ms. Norman said -- was part of the Overdrive promotional plan since the channel's launch in April.

Available a la carte
To host content from the Video Music Awards, MTV created "My VMAs," a channel dedicated on Overdrive, on Aug. 29 following the live VMA broadcast. The show is broken down into one- to five-minute segments, available a la carte. It also added original content that never aired on MTV's linear network, such as all of the celebrities arriving by yacht and in tricked-out cars, behind-the-scenes and after party coverage and additional music performances.

The channel also boasted a viral element: Viewers could mix and match segments to create their own customized experience -- and then send their play lists to friends.

MTV is promoting Overdrive's VMA content on air and the response, Ms. Norman said, indicates that "building your own show clearly appeals to people and makes them want to go back for more."

345,000 logged on for one band
Case in point: Overdrive's VMA coverage included a segment chronicling the band My Chemical Romance's first VMA experience. More than 345,000 people logged on to watch it online, according to the network.

The numbers for programming that never found a home on the air also illustrate the idea that the "Long Tail" is as compelling for TV programming as it is for e-commerce. The "Long Tail," a term coined by Wired editor Chris Anderson, describes the potential market available when the opportunity cost for inventory storage is low -- like on the Internet.

Because there are only a certain number of broadcast hours in the day, TV networks typically only air the newest and most popular content. But when a network is able to store extra or archived content online for an extended period of time, it may find the aggregated number of users of that content is greater than its linear audience. Eight million people tuned into the VMAs on the air. And while the 11 million streams of VMA content on Overdrive aren't necessarily unique users, the numbers are compelling. And the VMA content still had two-and-a-half more weeks on Overdrive to continue to rack up audience numbers.

Attractive model
MTV's experience offering VMA show content via broadband may prove an attractive model for other awards shows, which have typically seen ratings drops over the past several years.

Ms. Norman said she's not sure how MTV's experience will influence the way other awards shows handle their online operations, but that ratings for the repeat airings of the VMA show on MTV are higher this year than last year -- a phenomenon she'd like to think is partly due to the prolonged exposure the show is getting on Overdrive.

The network, she said, will know more about what "My VMA" features were most popular and how viewers used them once they get all the numbers for the 30-day experiment.

"We're looking to figure out what is the right Overdrive and multiplatform experience for everything we do," she said. "People want to see it on TV but they want a deeper experience through Overdrive. It's really for the super fan."

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