ManiaTV: Model for 'Viacom of the Internet'?

Ten-Month-Old Experiment Lures Major Brand Integrations

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The deal: The founders of ManiaTV, an Internet-based TV network targeting 13 to 34 year olds, have offered advertisers the chance to embed programming with their brands and messaging.

The result: With ManiaTV now reaching an audience of almost 1.5 million unique users each month, the network attracts brands such as Levi's, Coke and CitiBank.

The 13-to-34 crowd is wildly enthusiastic about

The 13-to-34 crowd is wildly enthusiastic about

With college students spending less time in front of the TV set, advertisers have been forced to find new ways to target that elusive audience with their marketing messages.

Ironically, one such tool is ManiaTV, an Internet-based network of TV-like programming.

On screen, the Web site's round-the-clock programming includes action sports clips, short films, music videos, celebrity interviews and shows like the early-morning offering Wake the Hell Up and Pimpin' Personals, in which viewers nominate their friend's personal ad for notoriety or trashing online.

Cyber jockeys

Each offering is hosted by a cyberjockey or "CJ," as ManiaTV dubs them, who have attracted their own fan clubs. Online, viewers can make requests and suggestions, chat with others, determine future programming and even vote shows off the air. A new video-on-demand channel was just posted in which viewers can access past shows.

"Today's youth is very difficult to please," said ManiaTV's chief marketing officer, Peter Clemente. "They want programs that feel like they are speaking to them as individuals."

ManiaTV said it attracts 1.5 million uniques per month. That figure is the company's own tally, considering that Nielsen NetRatings doesn't measure Web usage at schools.

Overall, the company said 85% of its viewers are between 13 and 34 years old, and about half are college students.

"They're Web junkies," said Drew Massey, ManiaTV's CEO.

Four hours a day online

The gender split on the site is almost 50/50, and nearly 30% spend more than four hours a day online. About 17 minutes of that time is devoted to ManiaTV, according to company statistics, although messages on the site do suggest "watching" the network while surfing the rest of the Web.

Younger audiences are tuning in, and so are advertisers.

Since the site's launch 10 months ago, funded by $20 million in venture capital, ManiaTV has inked deals with brands as blue chip as any MTV boasts: Levi's, Coke, CitiBank, Dodge, Pepsi, the U.S. Navy and Norelco are on board, and the network is in talks with some 20 more, including Nintendo, Activision, Axe, Warner Bros., Sony, Subway and other marketers.

The branded placements on the site tend to be irreverent and indirect. Levi's, for instance, has sponsored 60-second short films. One trashed the metrosexual look: "Be a natural guy. Wear your jeans," said the tagline. CJs wear Levi's clothing and a monitor behind them displays the apparel maker's logo. Levi's ad starts and ends each program.

1930s diving suit

The Navy positioned a Navy diver in the studio, wearing copper gear from the 1930s, complete with head screws. The suit was so big it stood up by itself, creating an absurd background.

Other marketers, like a soft-drink company, for example, might pay for an ad in which CJs bathe themselves in the beverage, Mr. Massey said.

Each brand gets exclusive placement for the show they sponsor and receive 120 seconds throughout the segment to "do anything they want," Mr. Massey said. "We recommend the wackier the better. It resonates with the viewers."

The youth market, turned off by TV, has told ManiaTV in surveys that what they hate most is the advertising clutter on TV. "It's a lot of advertising, but we do it without hitting them over the head," Mr. Massey said.

All this may come across as silly and ironic, but the back end is anything but irreverent, as ManiaTV gathers detailed data about its viewers. By offering incentives like a grab bag of the day, contest entries and concert tickets, ManiaTV has collected about 100,000 names, e-mail addresses and demographic data through registration sign ups. Those registrants receive an e-newsletter with special offers and giveaways.

'Viacom of the Internet'

Mr. Massey bragged that ManiaTV is going to become the "Viacom of the Internet." And Mr. Clemente goes so far as to say that ManiaTV is better than TV. "Viacom and MTV have launched what they refer to as Internet TV," he said. "But there is very little original programming, and the fact that ManiaTV is live and that the audience can interact with the cyberjockeys -– that doesn't exist anywhere else."

ManiaTV launched when broadband penetration in the U.S. is now at 59% among active Web users, and when TV networks and Web portals are now battling each other to put video content online.

Mr. Clemente, who in his previous post as senior vice president of customer relationship marketing at Sony Corp. grew the company's database from half a million to 12 million in a year and a half, said he was hired in early July to bolster ManiaTV's audience and fatten up the database.

Mr. Clemente will build on ManiaTV's system of collecting bits of data over time as viewers provide information to enter promotions. Ideally, "every time you connect with a customer, you capture additional information," Mr. Clemente said. He is also marrying that information with behavioral data collected by tracking users around the site. The goal is to be able to tell marketers not only who saw their advertising, but what types of programming those people prefer, what they click on, how old they are, what their outside interests and hobbies are and even if they are in the market for a certain product.

Granular targeting

For some registrants, ManiaTV just has an e-mail address, for others, it possesses a wealth of general and personal information. But data will get fairly granular for targeting, Mr. Clemente said. ManiaTV would be able to tell when a 22-year-old is graduating from college and is in the market for a new car, and apartment or a credit card.

Mr. Clemente's goal is to "be able to target and track the accountability of the ads, while viewers see advertisers as bringing them cool stuff and cutting-edge content."
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