MTV Follows DiSanto’s Script

Oct 21, 2007  •  Post A Comment

When Danielle Savre tried out for the lead role in “Kaya,” a drama about a rock performer’s sudden success, the actress and her agent had one reservation: The series was being developed for MTV, which hadn’t done a scripted show in five years.
She ultimately landed the role on the show, which premieres tonight.
Adding a scripted series is part of MTV’s new Executive VP for Series Development and Programming Tony DiSanto’s plan to have shows from a mix of genres on the network, which critics say has been too heavy on reality and too light on music.
Such criticism may be painful, but MTV suffered bigger hurts back in 2006. The cable network’s viewership dropped 9 percent among 18- to 34-year-olds and Tom Freston, who helped put MTV on the map, was unceremoniously fired as CEO of parent company Viacom. MTV Networks was restructured by new Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman, and hundreds of jobs disappeared.
This year MTV took another big hit in the second quarter, when ratings among viewers 12 to 34 fell 21 percent from the year-ago quarter. But the bleeding appears to be slowing. In the third quarter, ratings were down 13 percent from a year ago, and in September they were off 9 percent. Among adults 18 to 34, ratings were up 9 percent in the third quarter, thanks in part to the popularity of “The Hills,” the semi-reality show that has become a pop-culture sensation. “The Hills” will serve as a lead-in to “Kaya” on Monday nights.
MTV expects ratings to be flat in the fourth quarter.
“Things are coming together nicely,” Mr. DiSanto said. “I’m really happy about the diversity of ideas and the creative, and we’re having some pretty nice numbers with this stuff.”
“Life of Ryan,” which wrapped up its season last week, was the network’s No. 1 series premiere of 2007. The network also scored big numbers earlier this month when it premiered the bisexual dating show “Shot at Love With Tila Tequila.” This week, in addition to “Kaya,” MTV will be launching “Making Menudo,” a musical competition to assemble a new generation of the Latino band.
Mr. DiSanto said the eclectic mix of new shows is designed to move MTV out of its comfort zone. Putting a scripted show on MTV also lets the creative community know the network is going to reach out for new ideas and new formats.
“We’re trying to pull the net out from under us,” he said. “MTV has always been about reinvention and constantly trying to do just that, whether you’re doing well or you’re not doing well.”
One reason for MTV’s slipping ratings is that its young viewer base has more video entertainment options than ever, said Tom Weeks, senior VP of ad buyer Starcom.
“When it launched, it was the only show in town. Now people are creating their own content,” Mr. Weeks said.
Mr. Weeks said having a mix of new offerings seemed a good strategy for MTV.
“I think they have to be all over the place,” he said. To present a narrow choice of programming options “to that audience would be a really risky endeavor.”
A scripted series about the problems of being young, talented and famous gives MTV an advertiser-safe way to play in the “celebutainment” field, where news abounds about Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and their ilk, Mr. Weeks said.
Rockband, the new video game from Viacom’s Harmonix division, is being integrated into episodes of “Kaya.” Other sponsors of the show include AT&T, Victoria’s Secret and PepsiCo.
MTV also has a shot at the kind of ancillary businesses that Disney Channel enjoys with the success of “Hannah Montana,” such as record sales and concert tours, Mr. Weeks said.
MTV already has shot a music video for Kaya’s fictional band, Crossing Coldwater; it will be available via on-demand. Songs are being written for the show by Evan Taubenfeld, lead guitarist for Avril Lavigne’s band, and are likely to be released as an album.
“A fictional band might give birth to some real hits,” Mr. DiSanto said.
Having a scripted show means more planning has to go into creating the digital extensions that will live online, unlike a reality show, where outtakes are a staple.
“It is different. There’s a little bit of a learning process for us here,” Mr. DiSanto said. “It forces you to give extra thought to the multiplatform angle in the creative phase, rather than during a post-production phase.” In the works are character blogs, sneak peeks, behind-the-scenes footage and exclusive pictures.
MTV.com’s unique visitors were up 86 percent in September to an average of 1.6 million per day. Video streams have increased 112 percent to 3.6 million per day.
MTV will be launching the Virtual Kaya virtual world online, allowing users to party in Kaya’s house, visit her recording studio and other locations from the show. Cast members from “Kaya” will visit with fans in the virtual world.
“The beauty of MTV is that you have such a multiplatform base to get the word out about a show and make the engagement bigger,” Mr. DiSanto said.


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