Lunch at Michael's with Christina Norman, New CEO of the Oprah Winfrey Network

By Lunch at Michael's Archives
Cover image for  article: Lunch at Michael's with Christina Norman, New CEO of the Oprah Winfrey Network

Originally Published: May 14, 2007

"This business is fun again," says MTV president Christina Norman. "For the past few years we have been talking about our challenges and now it's become all about the possibilities. Unlike networks that introduce a new slate of programs every fall, we rise and fall on how we embrace possibility. This is a new playground and we're eager to find out the next act for us and our audience." MTV's foundation events, the MTV Movie Awards and the MTV Video Music Awards have made recent headlines with changes in format, plus increased emphasis on "live" and multi-platform extensions.

At our Lunch at Michael's®, Christina outlined MTV's strategies for embracing new media and expanding MTV's relationship with its audience to video-on-demand, mobile, online, virtual worlds and other platforms. Pointing out that MTV2 has a larger monthly audience than YouTube, Christina recognizes the traditional MTV mantra of "don't say it, be it" doesn't necessarily work in the new media age when audiences have so many options. "We need to tell people who we are; we need to be more aggressive in communicating to the MTV viewer community, Wall Street, and advertisers. Viewers are clearly getting the message," she comments," but we really need to do more around who we are to advertisers. We're jumping into a void and we need to get advertisers to jump with us."

MTV today is no longer a TV network only; "it's a multi-screen eco-system," Christina explains. "We are offering our audiences a unique journey through new platforms and we're rolling up our sleeves with programmers, advertisers and agencies to figure out how everyone, and especially audiences, can benefit."

As the original creator of short-form programming in the form of music videos, MTV believes development of short-form content for mobile phones and video-on-demand is a natural extension of the television network. One of the first efforts, Dances in the Hood is a series of three-minute instructional dance-step videos. Made available on-demand, the videos generated tremendous audience response and value for Vitamin Water, which integrated 10-second humorous messages into the videos. "It's important that the advertising not be force fed to viewers; ads need to be integrated and entertaining."

Christina follows the same counsel as MTV Networks integrates acquisitions such as Xfire, a gaming site, and Rate My Professor, and College Media Network, which were acquired by mtvU. "We can't take sites people love and 'corporatize' them with the MTV brand," she says. "We need to understand how the audiences relate. It was cool, for example, to have the dance steps of Dance Life broken down on VOD, where viewers could watch over and over. We're considering how we can offer content in different languages and offer what's happening in the music scene in different countries." MTV has launched the first bilingual, mobile channel targeted to Latino youth. MTV Tr3s Mobile is music focused and features popular artists such as Nelly Furtado, Akon, Fall Out Boy, Luis Fonsi and Paulina Rubio. There are also ringtones and mobile content from hit MTV Tr3s shows such as Mi TRL, Pimpeando, Descubre & Download, Dance Adictos, Wrestling Society X, and the recently announced Road to Menudo.

To support advertisers who are willing to explore new territory with MTV, the company has established a strategic team of creative thinkers from programming, marketing, promotion and sales to partner with ad agencies in developing new ideas and strategies. "We know we can innovate and re-imagine how MTV and marketers can work together to bring the viewers a better experience. We are working with marketers and agencies to think more holistically about our brand, rather than thinking of the linear network and digital extensions separately. Structurally, we all need to be as nimble as possible."

The most important issue MTV is confronting, says Christina, "is a new measurement system. When people are spending 40-minutes with us in a virtual world, audiences are connecting deeply with our brand. We want to push the industry to accept new financial models that reflect the value of multiple platforms and the power of a brand. Navigation needs to improve and new measures need to follow."

Christina's shift from traditional business and programming models to creating more engaged and emotionally connected audiences extends to MTV's cause initiatives. Beginning this year, the company will expand its well regarded Choose or Lose voter registration campaign "beyond 'register and vote' to a healthy discussion on what our audience cares about. It's not about who has the most friends on MySpace. We're going to empower them to communicate and select spokespeople who will keep their issues in the forefront. Forums with canned comments from politicians is not enough."

Christina, who grew up in the Bronx and now lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two talented daughters, was President of VH1 before shifting to MTV in 2005. She has been with MTV Networks for 16 years, originally joining as a Production Manager. She was named among the Top 25 list of Influentials in the New York Post's annual list of top New York Latino movers and shakers and has been named to The Hollywood Reporter's Black Power List and The Power 100 Women in Entertainment list.

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