'What You're Watching' to Use Twitter, Facebook

Road to the Upfront: MTV Gets Social Networking

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The Player: MTV
The Date: April 28, 2009
The Venue: The Directors Guild of America and Le Parker Meridien, New York
Key Execs: Judy McGrath, chairman-CEO, MTV Networks; Van Toffler, president, MTV Networks Music, Films and Logo Group; Tony DiSanto, head of programming; Stephen Friedman, general manager; Sean Moran, exec VP-MTV 360 brand sales

MTV execs pose with cast members of 'The Buried Life' at the MTV Upfront.
MTV execs pose with cast members of 'The Buried Life' at the MTV Upfront. Credit: Scott Gries
The Food: Movie popcorn and bottled water for the presentation at the Directors Guild's screening theater. Later, trays filled with tuna tartare, spring rolls and mini-cheeseburgers frequently made the rounds at the late-afternoon upfront after-party, where guests could also nibble on M&Ms at the bar.
The Drinks: An open bar stocked with long-stemmed, rectangular glasses that made the lightest of beers look like champagne based on presentation alone.

Last Year's Take: MTV rolled $1.02 billion in measured ad spending in 2008, a 4.8% decrease from 2007, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

The Ratings Game: MTV is in the midst of one of its biggest ratings struggles to date, with prime-time ratings down 24% in total viewers so far this season, according to Nielsen data compiled in an April 22 ratings report from Wachovia. However, a few bright spots remain among its core viewership of 12- to 24-year-olds: It ranks No. 1 in all of cable in the demo for shows such as "America's Best Dance Crew," "The Real World: Brooklyn" and new motocross series "Nitro Circus."

Buyer's Verdict: Larry Novenstern, exec VP-joint managing director of Optimedia, is optimistic the network, still priced at a premium for reaching the youth demo, will rebound from its current branding woes. "MTV always finds a way to reinvent itself every three or four years. I don't worry about them too much," he said.

The Pitch: With social networking at the forefront of its target demo's media habits for years now, it's a wonder MTV took so long to finally create the first live show to sync up with all the different platforms. "What You're Watching With Alexa Chung," a daily, one-hour "TRL"-esque talk and music show coming this summer, will enable viewers to interact with host Ms. Chung and her celebrity guests via Twitter, Facebook and a video-sharing application from RockYou.

Sean Moran, MTV's ad-sales chief, described the show as a "joint venture" with Facebook and Twitter, with ad sales deals in the works that will result in revenue sharing with the social networks, both of which have had dubious monetization models.

Ms. Chung's series will be just part of the new generation of programming MTV announced at the network's upfront to advertisers and agencies Tuesday in New York, billed as MTV's first major effort to understand the ins and outs of the millennial generation, having officially ushered Gen X out of its target demo.

"Change is in MTV's DNA, and this generation is demanding their own MTV," Stephen Friedman, MTV's new general manager, said of millennials. "Because they expect more of themselves, they also expect more of us. Whether it's escapism, aspirational reality or comedy, they've demanded that we raise the bar."

The programming will include variations on pop-culture themes, including "The Buried Life," a sort "Bucket List"-meets-"Road Rules" in which four Canadian 20-somethings document their countrywide quest to cross 100 items off their things-to-do-before-we-die list. There will also be "The Stylist," a "Rachel Zoe Project" for the teen set, in which junior assistants compete for a position at the Margaret Maldonado agency. A&E's "Intervention" will get a tweak with "Gone Too Far," hosted by DJ AM, in which 18- to 25-year-old addicts get their comeuppance from loved ones. Perhaps the most enthusiastically received show was "Bridge & Tunnel," a "Hills"-esque docu-soap set in Staten Island and accompanied by the line, "Our accents may be thick, but the bonds are thicker."

Although no marketers were on hand this year to provide testimony on the return on investment provided by MTV and its sister networks, Mr. Moran announced that media agencies would be presented with a new initiative called the "MTV Value" in the next 10 business days, outlining new ways marketers can "get a better value for their investment and better engagement with our audience."

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