MTV Entertainment Group Moves Original Programming, Young Men and Digital to the (Up)front

By The Myers Report Archives
Cover image for  article: MTV Entertainment Group Moves Original Programming, Young Men and Digital to the (Up)front

MTV Networks Entertainment Sales Group, under the helm of industry veteran Jeff Lucas, will emphasize an expanding slate of original programming, multi-platform digital extensions, industry leadership in reaching male audiences, and R-O-I research during this year's Upfront presentations to advertisers. The MTV Entertainment Sales Group includes Comedy Central, Spike, CMT and TV Land and all networks are driving forward in high gear, claims group president Doug Herzog (CMT programming falls into the music group under Van Toffler but sales are packaged with TV Land under Lucas).

According to Lucas, Total Day reach among males 18 to 49 and 18 to 34 for Spike/Comedy Central/TV Land was two percent greater than the combination of ESPN/ESPN2/ESPN Classic for the full year 2007, a delivery of 55.4 million Men 18 to 49 and 28.6 million Men 18 to 34.* Comedy Central, anchored by The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report experienced its highest prime time ratings ever during strike-plagued January 2008, with Men 18 to 24 ratings increasing 46 percent and Men 18 to 34 ratings growing 31 percent. 2007 also set annual ratings records.

On Spike, Ultimate Fighting Championship bouts in 2007/2008 drew an average of 830,000 Men 18-34, more young men than NBA Playoffs on TNT and ESPN, NLCS on TBS (535,000), MLB Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN, NASCAR on TNT and ESPN, and NBA Regular Season on TNT and ESPN. "We are looking for an original hit to further propel the Spike brand.," says Herzog.

Today, Comedy Central is soft-launching a revamped SouthParkStudios.com, a joint venture between the series' creators and the network. The site will include 160 episodes from all eleven seasons and will make clips searchable, embeddable and snagable, says Erik Flannigan, EVP Digital Media for MTV Networks Entertainment Group. "Lots of networks have dabbled with making content available online, but we're going further than anyone has gone," Flannigan told JackMyers Media Business Report in an exclusive interview. At TheDailyShow.com, 13,000 clips are available spanning back to Jon Stewart's original hosting appearance. "We're doing right by the show and exceeding the expectations of viewers," says Flannigan. Similar plans are in the works for The Colbert Report and for the network's archives of stand-up comedy. The web expansion anticipates restructured deals the company is negotiating with cable and satellite operators. Current distribution deals restrict the availability of content available on-demand.

"We have found people are interested in accessing our existing brands in different ways online," Herzog told JackMyers Media Business Report. "The comedy audience is interested in finding content and having deeper engagement with us." Although MTV virtually shut down its interactive initiatives during the Internet collapse earlier this decade, Flannigan argues MTV Networks has lost little by failing to acquire YouTube. "If our content is dominating on YouTube, are we that much behind," he asks. "Our content is dominant and relevant and we need to do right by it online by going beyond users' expectations."

Flannigan says the company is reaching out to partner with other sites reaching complementary audiences. "There are mechanisms that have evolved to make it easier to work with partner sites and there are blueprints for splitting revenues. The advantage we have is to leverage the TV networks to promote the sites and to draw content from on-air programming." He adds, "the potential of putting their content on TV is also the carrot for user generated content creators… the 'prosumer' creators who are aspiring to get into business. Other sites can offer them notoriety but can't get their content onto TV." Flannigan points to convergent ad sales as an especially important advantage for advertisers.

"Digital is now sitting in the front seat with TV. It's practically one sell," says Lucas, who is EVP Ad Sales for MTV Networks Entertainment Group. The focus, Lucas explains, is on "targeted original programming as the key for multi-platform extensions." Herzog and Lucas described several original programs that are in development for each of the networks and Flannigan added the group is "developing original content for the web medium itself. Much content still feels like content designed for TV. We are now embracing content that's best watched on the smaller screen, which is an art form." MTV Networks has acquired several online and gaming companies, including Harmonix (Guitar Hero), Atom and iFilms, to provide platforms for content expansion. iFilms is being integrated into Spike.com. Atom.com is being repositioned as a 'flanker' comedy brand.

"TV Land is probably the most exciting network," says Lucas, with four new originals that are expected to reduce the average audience age from 53 to mid-40s. The March 5 premiere of TV Land's six-episode original reality series, High School Reunion, gave TV Land triple digit gains among Adults 25-54 and double digit gains among Adults 40-54. The new series reunites classmates from a Texas high school more than 20 years after graduation. TVLand.com experienced traffic gains to the High School Reunion microsite.

Other TV Land original series premiering this Spring include The Big 4-0, which invites viewers to see people in action as they prepare for a new life-stage as a person in their 40s; She's Got the Look,in partnership with Wilhelmina Models, sets out to discover a woman 35 or older who exudes sophistication, beauty and confidence and wants to be a model; and Family Foreman isan intimate look at former heavyweight boxing champ George Foreman, who reinvented himself into a successful businessman, pitchman, minister and father to ten children, five of whom are also named George. Along with movies, 'contemporary classic' TV series and four more original series rolling out next season, "it's an entirely new way of approaching TV Land," says Lucas. "It's a strategic way of approaching the network and moving from a Boomer market focus to a true focus on delivering 40 year olds."

Flannigan adds that in the future TVLand.com can be home for full length classic episodic TV, and he foresees future deals between MTVN and Hulu, the website launched last week by News Corp and NBC-TV.

At CMT, Gone Country has emerged as the network's highest rated series ever and My Big Redneck Wedding premiered last Friday to strong ratings. "The strategy," says Lucas, "is to continue to deliver originals that have broader appeal and that expand its appeal." Billy Ray & Miley Cyrus will host the 2008 CMT Music Awards on April 14. The producers of American Idol are producing the music competition show, Can You Duet with Naomi Judd, also premiering April 14.

For more information, contact Jeff Lucas at jeff.lucas@mtvn.com.

*Source: Nielsen Npower 2007. Cume based on 1 minute qualifier. Data for ESPN News, ESPNU and ESPN Deportes is not available via Npower

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