TV Upfront

How MTV Plans to Put the 'M' Back in its Name

Picks Up Live Music Series and Brings Back 'Cribs' for Snapchat

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MTV is pitching advertisers on new programming including 'Sweet/Vicious,' an hourlong dramedy about avenging sexual assault victims on a college campus, but also striving to re-elevate music in its identity.
MTV is pitching advertisers on new programming including 'Sweet/Vicious,' an hourlong dramedy about avenging sexual assault victims on a college campus, but also striving to re-elevate music in its identity. Credit: MTV

MTV is going back to its roots with a programming strategy that will once again put music front-and-center.

The Viacom-owned channel will introduce several music-centered shows, including "Wonderland," its first weekly live music performance series in nearly two decades, at its upfront presentation in New York City on Thursday afternoon.

MTV will use "music as the muse" of its programming strategy moving forward, said Sean Atkins, who was appointed president of the network last year.

There's no question MTV has lost much of its once-powerful influence on its core young viewers, who are increasingly turning toward non-traditional platforms to consume video and content. It's been years since MTV has ruled the cultural zeitgeist.

From September through April 10, its primetime audience slipped 4% from same period last year, averaging 565,000 viewers. But it has seen a slight 2% bump in 18-to-49 demo, averaging 366,000 viewers in the age group.

With its new slate of 14 new series and specials, as well as content for other platforms, Mr. Atkins said MTV is "beginning the journey of creatively reinvigorating the brand."

Aside from "Wonderland," which will feature live performances from three different acts every week, MTV also picked up a music competition series from Mark Burnett and greenlit a reimagined version of "MTV Unplugged." The network is also developing the music documentary series "Year One," which will use archive footage to explore the breakthrough year in a superstar's career.

But music is just one of the past strengths that MTV is tapping to revive the brand.

The network will also bring back "Cribs" as a short-form series on Snapchat, where artists and celebrities will give the app's users tours of their homes, just like Mariah Carey, Richard Branson and Redman once did for MTV viewers.

"Cribs" will premiere in June and appear weekly, with Mac Miller, Austin Mahone and Travis Mils among the first artists to participate.

MTV said it is also developing several other series for Snapchat, where it is one of the publishers with a Discover channel.

And as it revives MTV News, which now shows up in on-screen tickers or doing programming around the network's awards shows, MTV is introducing five podcasts this week that touch on politics, film, pop-culture and music.

Beginning this week, MTV News will air multiple daily video segments across digital and social platforms.

MTV News will also appear on mtvU, a cable channel that reaches students on 750 campuses around the country.

Aside from music-focused programming, Mr. Atkins said MTV's goal is to create content that is beyond "surface level" TV, unexpected and diverse in both types of people represented and points of view.

To that end, other new programming includes: "Sweet/Vicious," a dark one-hour dramedy about avenging sexual assault victims on a college campus; a docu-series with the working title "The Outsiders," following families living on the fringe of society; "Acting Out," where stand-up routines are reenacted; and "Mary + Jane," a comedy about enterprising weed dealers navigating L.A. hipster culture.

MTV will also dip its toe into the extremely popular crime genre with a reality series with the working title "MTV's The Investigation," where Ryan Ferguson, who spent 10 years unjustly imprisoned, digs into cases of the wrongfully convicted.

Zac Efron, Drew Barrymore, Dwayne Johnson, Pitbull and John Legend also have projects in the works for the network, MTV said.

Mr. Atkins' motto is "more": churning out more series and getting MTV more on brand. Ultimately, he wants MTV to be "a place creatives come to develop their career."

Instead of a traditional stage presentation, MTV's upfront will be set up as a pop art tradeshow, with interactive booths for upcoming series and initiatives, and a faux retail storefront featuring limited-edition MTV collectibles.

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