Salmi Pushes Digital Envelope at MTV

Q&A: Exec Bets on Unique Social-Net Tool Flux, 'Overlay Ads'

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- MTV Networks may have missed the boat on Facebook and MySpace, but Mika Salmi, the company's president of global digital media, has a plan to keep the brand afloat in the social-networking space. Flux is a type of social network that allows users to create a universal profile across any website -- MTV or otherwise -- that has social-networking tools.
Mika Salmi
Mika Salmi

A year's worth of work
The project was quietly launched in September and has slowly added features and networks in the weeks since. Flux represents the culmination of a year's work in Mr. Salmi's new role as MTV's global digital chief, a position he was promoted to last fall from his previous gig as CEO of Atom Entertainment. Mr. Salmi has had a rapid ascent in the MTV corporate family since his video-and-gaming company was acquired in August 2006.

Over the past year, MTV's number of wide-ranging websites has climbed from 200 to more than 300. And Mr. Salmi's group two weeks ago launched a comprehensive digital library for "The Daily Show," featuring a searchable archive of all the show's clips dating back to its 1996 premiere.

Instead of a 15-second pre-roll, the clips employ seven-second "overlay ads" for presenting sponsors, which flash the brand's logo before presenting the clip. Only after the video is finished does the complete 15-second spot actually play. "We wanted to make sure it was visible throughout the experience, but doesn't get in the way. We've found that [pre-rolls] have definitely hampered the enjoyment in the past -- both in videogames and video-sharing sites," Mr. Salmi said.

Finding new and innovative digital ad models keeps the MTV Networks brass happy, particularly CEO Judy McGrath, to whom Mr. Salmi reports directly.

His mantra
"Mika has a mantra here -- 'open, flat and connected.' He quickly recognized the opportunity in networking our legion of worldwide brands, verticals and sites ... and he championed the next iteration of our MTVN applications, all for the good of the user," Ms. McGrath told Ad Age. She also praised Mr. Salmi for recognizing the value of TV in the media mix, while maintaining a savvy entrepreneurial spirit.

Mr. Salmi spoke with Ad Age about his plans for social networking and why gaming will continue to be a large source of revenue growth for MTV going forward.

Ad Age: You came into your new role as president of global digital media last year at a time when MTV was being criticized for not harnessing the scale and reach potential online of a Facebook, MySpace or YouTube. What are some of the steps you've taken since then to help fix that?

Mika Salmi: My overall strategy [was] to take a deep and targeted approach with our properties and really serve the consumer in a more meaningful way. We've had different ways to define what that means in the past, going after niche audiences on cable with dozens of channels. On a global basis, there's a pretty strong footprint, so when we look at trends on the internet, which is really strong for fragmentation, people are going deep into what their interests are, using search, going deep into a website and finding exactly what they're looking for. ... Once they get there, they really want to build out deep experiences.

Ad Age: How can you build out those experiences from a content standpoint once a consumer gets the information they're seeking?

Mr. Salmi: Basically, we're following what the consumer is doing on the web. ... I started [at MTV] with 200 websites last year and we just broke 300. Now we're building a community around them, connecting people to each other and connecting what we're doing to other pieces. We'll be building a network within our own brands and websites, but we'll also work very much with outside companies with an open approach to letting content go elsewhere. Whether it's RSS feeds, mashups, blogs, we're letting the consumer control the media experience.

Ad Age: You're also starting to sell aggregated impressions to niche communities through Flux. Tell us a little more about how that works.

Mr. Salmi: It's not like MySpace or Facebook or Bebo where everyone goes to one site. It's compatible with any of our 300 websites or any website on the internet that can build in social-networking tools. If people are into motorcycles or "Pimp My Ride" or "The Daily Show" and they want to connect with people who are into that same thing, Flux allows there to be profile pages, easily uploadable content, friend lists -- all the social-networking features you'd go to that area to find. It's built around interests and websites consumers already have.

Ad Age: How widely has Flux been implemented so far?

Mr. Salmi: A few dozen websites are already Flux-enabled. Once you're a part of a network, you can also bring content into your profile, whether it's [content from] your favorite skateboarding website, or 50Cent.com or a Universal Music one. And you can keep your profile with you as you move around the internet, across literally thousands of websites. Some are internal to us and some are external. It's a way for users to go from their favorite place and keep them connected.

Ad Age: Which of your 300 websites are you particularly excited about or do you think will drive the bulk of growth for you going forward?

Mr. Salmi: I love our game stuff. We've been spending a lot in the games area. No one has the focus on games and impacts like we do. Everything from our console games, like "Rock Band" for Harmonix, to GameTrailers, which is doing very well, in addition to Xfire, which is an instant-messenger area. Then there's casual games, like "Addicting Games," and "Shockwave," which is just a booming area. At Atom, my company, the games properties had a higher click-through and a higher awareness than the digital properties.

We also have 10 virtual worlds. Nicktropolis has over 5 million people. We're doing really exciting stuff with games that fit perfectly with an audience for teens or young adults. It's an area where people spend a lot of time, so having "Shockwave" and advertiser messages in an engaging environment where people are spending their time and very focused on what they're doing there. We've been putting products in the virtual worlds, too. With "Virtual Laguna Beach," you could buy a Pepsi can. Over 17,000 people actually purchased a Pepsi can. Even if they didn't actually buy a can, people were exposed to it. There are so many things you can do.
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