Graden: Match Content, Window

Oct 9, 2006  •  Post A Comment

MTV will partner with MSN.com to promote the upcoming “The Real World/Road Rules Challenge: The Duel.” The Microsoft-owned portal will stream the premiere for two days prior to the series’ Oct. 12 debut on the linear channel.

The show will then “window” on MTV’s linear channel, appear on its Overdrive broadband player and then go to video-on-demand. Throughout the season, MTV will provide a steady drip of original supporting wireless and broadband content.

Though this marks only the second time MTV has premiered an entire episode on a video platform outside its main cable network feed, the shotgun blast of new media support has become standard procedure for the channels in MTV Networks.

In the past two years, the MTV Networks—which include MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite, Comedy Central, Spike TV, TV Land, Logo and CMT, among others—have cut mobile phone deals, launched broadband players for each major channel, put shows for sale on iTunes, produced exclusive Web content for each new series and offered gaming tie-ins, such as the recently announced “Virtual Laguna Beach.”

Launching so much into the online universe risks some efforts being lost in the shuffle, a costly problem given the lack of intrinsic online revenue. Popular series such as “The Real World” will have about 100 short-form elements.

MTV Entertainment President Brian Graden told TelevisionWeek that the channels do extensive strategizing to avoid indiscriminate bombardment of content.

“If you’re doing it without a template, throwing 200 clips out there, you risk overkill,” he said. “For every single franchise, the content is windowed out. You have to look at how it helps the show and look at the creative formula. You really have to put creative energy into these small slices of content instead of putting something indiscriminately out there.”

Mr. Graden spoke in his characteristically assured, rapid-fire delivery. One gets the sense that there’s not a question about MTV’s new media efforts that he hasn’t researched, charted and spent long nights figuring out.

During the past couple years, Mr. Graden said MTV has developed certain strategies for certain types of content.

For example, shows related to hip hop are best served with mobile phone programming. For comedy series like “Andy Milonakis” that feature stand-alone sketches, clips from the show are released online weeks in advance in hopes of spreading virally. At the same time, MTV has learned that releasing too much in advance can be a mistake.

Now MTV is experimenting with real-time Webcam interviews with its talent, along with other measures.

As for which of these platforms might eventually result in a significant revenue stream, Mr. Graden said he’s not betting on any of them in particular.

“Right now we tend to think of all of them as separate silo,” he said. “But I think there will be some incarnation that ultimately captures the best elements of them all. [Until then] we really have to pay attention to new and emerging metrics, because what’s popping on VOD is different than what’s popping on mobile than what’s popping on broadband.”

If any new media element has lost some excitement in the past year, it’s mobile phone content. Prodded by staggering mobile video usage statistics in Europe and Asia, many networks, including the MTV suite, dove into making deals with carriers, only to find usage continuing to be sluggish.

Aside from mobile phone technology in the United States being a generation behind other countries, one reason for adoption overseas is that teens in many countries do not have a computer or cable service. Video phones became a primary way to experience content aimed at young demographics.

Though media companies including MTV continue to embrace the format, Mr. Graden agreed enthusiasm has waned somewhat.

“Broadband is really scaling over mobile,” he said. “Everybody has a computer in their home, not so a mobile video phone.”

A Scripted Revival

On the programming side, Mr. Graden took steps recently toward reviving scripted series—a genre the network has struggled with in the past. The channel ordered a pilot on an untitled one-hour drama about a female singer, and announced a half-hour comedy called “Human Giant” about a New York comedy act who gained popularity in a series of Web shorts.

The channel also recently announced more sketch comedy (“Nick Cannon Presents: Short Circuitz”) and reality-style documentary series “Engaged & Underage” and “MTV Show Choir.”

Though “Jackass: Number Two” was a recent box office hit, Mr. Graden said there are no plans to try and revive the franchise on television—unless the members of troupe return to the channel.

“Those guys can do whatever they want,” he said. “They know they have a home here.”

Last summer’s Video Music Awards took some serious flak, with critics using the one adjective MTV never likes to hear: “boring.” Mr. Graden said the network will make changes in the show next year, but noted many of the best moments from previous years are unscripted.

“So much of that show is driven by whatever takes form in the moment, and all you can do is provide the architecture,” he said. “To a great extent, it’s in the artists’ hands. We provide the skeleton.”