MTV Networks pushes digital

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THE PLAYERS: MTV, VH1, MTV2, Comedy Central, Spike TV, Nick-at-Nite, TV Land (Nickelodeon and its kids networks also fall within MTV Networks but are not profiled here)

KEY EXECS: Outgoing president of ad sales Larry Divney is helping to craft the upfront strategy before his retirement, set for April 1. MTV Networks won't comment on who his replacement might be. Hank Close is Mr. Divney's No. 2 as exec VP-ad sales for MTV Networks Music and Comedy Group. Mr. Close's counterpart, Sue Danaher, is exec VP-ad sales for MTV Networks Kids and Family Group.

THE RATINGS GAME: Despite a tech-savvy audience, ratings held up over 2005. VH1 is up almost 14% in viewers 18-to-49 in 2005 vs. 2004 and continues to grow. Flagship MTV is off an insignificant 2% in viewers 12-to-34 in 2005 and Comedy Central is off a similarly small percentage. TV Land is up 12% in viewers 18-to-49. The biggest growth has come from MTV2, which was up 44% in viewers 12-to-34 in 2005. Spike lost WWE "Raw" in 2005 but was up 9% in men 18-to-49. It has struggled a bit more so far in 2006 but recently announced new programming.

WHAT YOU'LL HEAR: The network group is pushing its digital assets, including wireless and broadband sites MTV Overdrive, VH1 V Spot, Comedy Central Motherload and CMT's Loaded. (Major chunks of its broadband inventory will likely be sold in the upfront.) Expect sales pitches that point to the value of having multiple platforms for this younger audience.

LAST YEAR'S UPFRONT: The more in-demand channels-MTV, Comedy Central, VH1-generally garnered price increases in the 3% to 5% range, in line with the top cable networks. Other networks, such as Nick-at-Nite and TV Land, took in low-single digit price increases.

THE BUYERS' VERDICT: The networks' successes have bred high levels of commercial clutter, and minute-by-minute ratings are making buyers more aware of how viewers tend to drift during long commercial pods. And while digital media is sexy, the linear network is still its bread and butter and MTV Networks will live and die by its TV ad revenue.
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