In Depth

MTV Rocks the Vote, Takes Political Ads

Politicians can finally get their MTV. The cable channel, which has declined political advertising since its inception in 1981, is reversing course.

The channel, part of Viacom’s MTV Networks unit, says it will now take political ads, though only from political candidates and party political committees—not the third parties that often lob the biggest bombs.

As recently as the presidential primaries this year, MTV had refused all political ads, even as it has heavily promoted its “Choose or Lose” get out the vote effort.

MTV had held out while other MTV Networks siblings were willing to feed at the political advertising trough. VH1, Comedy Channel and Spike TV were willing to accept political ads, according to an MTV Networks spokesman.

Cable networks are attracting more political ads. The Bush campaign four years ago bought national cable on a dozen channels. This year most of the political ads on cable have been on cable news networks. One sought-after network—Lifetime—still declines to take political ads.
Now all the MTV Networks that aren’t aimed at kids will accept political ads.

“MTV Networks will accept political advertising that is national in scope, sponsored by a legally qualified candidate, a candidate’s official campaign committee, a nationally recognized political party, or the official congressional campaign committee(s) of a nationally recognized party," MTV Networks said in a statement.

Jeannie Kedas, EVP-communications for MTV’s music networks, said the change is effective immediately and reflects the importance of the youth vote.

“Given where we are in the election cycle, and how the youth vote has increasingly engaged and played a crucial role in past presidential elections, we’re-evaluated the MTV policy and decided that campaign-approved ads would be a good fit for our audience, and would compliment our ‘Choose or Lose’ campaign efforts,” she said. “It's a good thing when candidates want to reach out to young people and the best way to do that is through MTV.”

She declined to say how much advertising MTV expects to obtain from the switch, but suggested that for politicians who want to reach the youth vote, “in the most effective way possible…many of the MTV Networks are the most meaningful way to do just that.”

MTV’s announcement of the switch follows a report in the New York Times on June 22 suggesting Democratic Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign wanted to do an MTV buy and a political expert suggested the most immediate beneficiary of the switch will be the Obama campaign.

“I think MTV’s decision to accept advertising is an important indication that the youth vote this year will have a real impact on the outcome of the election,” said Tad Devine, a Democratic campaign strategist who handled Sen. John Kerry’s campaign four years ago. “Now campaigns have the opportunity to reach young voters in a venue where they congregate, and I'm sure Obama's campaign will look seriously at advertising there, given his advantage with young people.”