Pepsi's Mountain Dew brand, determined to reach its target 18-to-24-year-old male consumer in alternative ways, has funded the production of "MDN," which will hit Viacom's Spike TV cable network in June. The show is scheduled to run for 10 weeks at midnight Saturdays.
Jumping into an arena that's already crowded with brands trying to make their messages more relevant to fickle young tastemakers, Mountain Dew executives said they're aware of the risk of launching a TV show. More than 80% of new shows fail, and the dial is filled with original programming, much of it trying to reach young audiences.
"It's a risk that needs to be taken," said Angelique Bellmer, Mountain Dew's marketing director. "We know what works with our target, and it's alternative media, underground, viral tactics."
Beverly Hills, Calif.-based Protagonist, whose founder Matti Leshem has an overall deal with Pepsi, is producing "MDN," which stands for "Mountain Dew Network." Leshem's company launched last year with more than a half-million-dollars of Pepsi seed money. Mountain Dew declined to reveal the budget for "MDN." He and Chris Gibbin are executive producers.
The show begins shooting in a historic Hollywood theater within weeks. Its format is still fluid, but there's expected to be three hosts who mirror the demo of the soda drinkers, comedy sketches, live or taped music and celebrity guests. Mountain Dew-sponsored action-sports stars are likely to show up, and a ramp has been built on the set to add to what Leshem describes as the "completely caffeinated experience" of the show.
"Mountain Dew has very specific brand attributes, and those have not been given life outside the 30-second commercial," Leshem said. "We're picking up the irreverent humor and the lightheartedness and the uniqueness and translating that to a TV show."
The flagship brand has experimented with such TV shows as "Pepsi Play for a Billion," also produced by Leshem, and "Pepsi Smash," which launches its second season this summer on The WB. Ratings were lukewarm by broadcast network standards, with "Smash" reaching a cumulative 25 million viewers over its six-show run, and "Billion" attracting 4.3 million viewers for its two-hour special. But Pepsi marketing executives have said the programs nailed the demographic.
Big ratings are not the driver, Bellmer said, but rather the fit between consumer and entertainment. The show will not be littered with Mountain Dew imagery, but the brand's connection should be clear, she said.
"It's meant to feel like a very cool party," said Peilin Chou, Spike TV's VP-original series. "It caters to a lot of things guys enjoy, all mixed together in one package with a feeling like anything goes, anything can happen."
%%PULLQUOTE_LEFT%% Variety shows, once a staple of network TV, have struggled to find an audience in recent years, despite numerous attempts with big-name stars. The genre could become trendy again, though, if specials like the upcoming ABC show, "The Nick and Jessica Variety Hour" catch on with viewers.
"We looked at the cluttered environment and at our target and we realize that our bull's-eye male consumers don't absorb content the way they used to, and they're not watching as much network TV," Bellmer said. "We're putting on a show we think will speak to them."
Promotion for "MDN" will be kept somewhat under the radar, though Spike TV plans on-air tune-ins. The bulk of the hype will happen online, in the form of flash games, dedicated Web sites and links to existing sites and through viral marketing. Mountain Dew will have one 30-second spot during "MDN," with Spike TV selling the balance to other marketers.