Twitter Teams with Viacom to Sell Its Ads to VMA Sponsors

Sponsors Including Unilever's Degree Women and Pepsi Buy In

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Viacom wants to turn buzz-generating moments from the MTV Video Music Awards -- such as Kanye West's infamous 2009 upstaging of Taylor Swift -- into new ad impressions for sponsors, and it's teaming up with Twitter to make it happen.

The two companies are selling packages of promoted tweets to five sponsors for the show, including Unilever's Degree Women and Pepsi, which will see their brands attached to videos posted to Twitter before, during and after the Aug. 25 broadcast. It's part of the deal announced in June under which Viacom is tweeting sponsored video clips from shows across its portfolio, which includes MTV, Nickelodeon, BET and Comedy Central.

The Video Music Awards videos and highlights from Viacom will range from 15 seconds to about 90 seconds in length. Some will include five-second advertiser pre-roll; others will take the form of branded content.

MTV's U.S. handles have roughly 13.3 million followers, which the sponsors can supplement by tweeting the videos from their own accounts as well. Twitter will then play the part of paid distribution channel by promoting the posts to users.

"We're essentially programming on Twitter," said Dario Spina, exec VP-integrated marketing for Viacom Music and Entertainment.

Twitter has struck similar deals with networks, publishers and sports leagues including ESPN, BBC America, Turner Broadcasting, the NBA and Conde Nast dating back to January.

Twitter's Viacom "Amplify" deal for the VMAs is the 13th such program that's been sold to advertisers, according to Glenn Brown, the company's director of promoted content and sponsorships, though Twitter has a total 30 partners so far. Some of them are prepping campaigns for fall and winter, Mr. Brown said.

In the case of the Viacom deal, Twitter generates revenue off the sale of promoted tweets to the five VMA sponsors, which is a discrete buy separate from the sponsorship packages. As with any promoted-tweet purchase, the advertiser only pays when there's a user interaction with the tweet, like a mention or a retweet. Viacom will generate incremental revenue from its sponsors for the content creation and pre-roll ads.

"[Amplify has] been a revenue driver for us and our partners so far," Mr. Brown said.

There's every indication that the VMAs will continue to be a social-media happening this year, though whether the broadcast's ratings will bounce back remains to be seen. Last year the VMAs' ratings were less than half of what they'd been in 2011, but the show had been bumped to Thursday from its usual Sunday and aired on the same night as President Barack Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention.

Mr. Spina characterized last year's ratings as an "anomaly" and described the Twitter ad packages as a complement to the investments those five sponsors had already made in TV and digital ads, not a substitute. Twitter affords a way to create inventory opportunities around unscripted moments that go viral, he observed.

"We call [the VMAs] our Super Bowl of pop culture," he said. "We're always pretty sure there's going to be a moment or many moments like when Kanye busted up on stage."

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