The Olympics, MTV-style

Youth channel and Swatch team up for sports show

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TAIPEI--Young men racing around in high heels? Locker-room style towel snapping? MTV has embraced these frat house stunts and other “sports” in Asia with a playful homage to the Olympics.

With interest in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing heating up across Asia, the music broadcaster has teamed up with the Swatch Group to create MTV The Games, an alternative version of the global sports event that will air on its Asian channels this summer.

The show “isn’t a pisstake of the Olympics, but it’s a bit irreverent,” said David Sulzmann, VP of Viacom brand solutions at MTV Networks Asia in Singapore.

MTV The Games will feature 10 young Asians, two each from--Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Thailand--competing in wacky games.

In the High Heel Race, for instance, competitors wearing four-inch heels will take part in a relay race traversing surfaces like shag pile carpeting. The baton is a baguette-style handbag. Other games include Towel Combat, Stare-Master, Radical Frisbee and Hip Hop Supersoaker Drive-By played on children’s tricycles.

Swatch has a long relationship with MTV in Europe, but MTV The Games marks the first time the company has sponsored a pan-regional initiative with the youth channel in Asia.

The collaboration “naturally blended well,” said Mr. Sulzmann. “We’re working with a company that has the same objectives and aspirations, like a desire to grow in Japan. The event is skewed towards North Asia, an important economic region with a lot of synergies in youth culture.”

Swatch is also a sponsor of the real Olympic Games; its Omega brand is the event’s official timekeeper. The Swiss watch giant owns other premium watch brands like Breguet, Blancpain, Jaquet-Droz and Tissot, but  became popular with teens and young adults, MTV’s core audience, with Swatch, a mass market brand featuring colorful plastic wristbands that helped save the Swiss watch industry.

When Swatch was launched in 1983, the Europeans were losing market share to cheap electronic watches made in Japan. To keep the brand fresh, Swatch has teamed up with hip sports like snowboarding and beach volleyball, and other youth brands like MTV.

"Swatch is constantly seeking for new, very special and exciting event opportunities. MTV The Games coincides perfectly with our brand values,” said Klaus-Peter Mager, Swatch’s head of PR and events in Biel, Switzerland, in an e-mail.

“The idea is to further establish Swatch as a fun and irreverent brand and to communicate our brand values such as joy of life and positive provocation. By combining competitions and events in real life, web activites and on-air shows we have a greater possibility to involve the consumer and offer them content that is fun and interesting for them.”

The contests will take place in three Asian cities, starting June 23 in Singapore. Half of the contestants will be eliminated in the first series of challenges, followed by a second round in Taipei and the finals in Tokyo, both in July. Each one-day event, hosted by local MTV VJs, will also feature interactive game booths and a Swatch booth showcasing its latest products.

While the games are light-hearted fun, the contestants have to take the competition seriously. The program will be shot and presented against the clock in true TV sports style with voice-over commentary, sporting statistics, athletes' profiles and instant replay. The champion will take home a $20,000 prize and the runners-up will get other prizes sponsored by Swatch and MTV.

The weekly series, including six 30-minute episodes, will premier this August--exactly one year ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games--and run on MTV channels across the region. The broadcaster began marketing the competition on April 9 on its Asian channels and local-language web sites. When MTV The Games goes on-air, the web sites will also offer wallpaper, screensaver and emoticons downloads as well as vignettes, deleted scenes and bloopers.
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