said MTV Networks is not only an entertainment company, but
first and foremost a marketer of brands. Over the years, the
company has successfully built its brands - including MTV,
MTV2, VH1, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, Nick at Nite and Spike
TV - by creating "passionate relationships" with
consumers. MTV Networks currently faces the tough challenge,
she said, of staying relevant to audiences who have more viewing
choices and control than ever before.
stressed the importance of consumer research to MTV, which
relies heavily on innovative ways for getting to know young
people. In order to reach an authentic understanding of their
audiences, MTV uses untraditional, and sometimes extreme,
methods from conducting focus groups at sports events or malls
to measuring viewers' brainwave activity as they watch music
videos. One recent experiment involved depriving loyal viewers
from watching MTV or visiting the MTV website, and observing
the effects on the teenagers' social lives.
consumer insights drive the content and style of the network,
they do not replace creativity. Their objective is not to
overanalyze research, but to make it a part of the creative
process. Frank believes that good research is also a sign
of commitment and respect towards their viewers; it is a drive
to understand audiences as individual human beings rather
than generic targets.
at MTV, Frank said, is not a backroom operation.
Frank discussed the radical changes in viewing habits that
appeared in the 2003 television season. Broadcast networks
performed poorly - in fact, the broadcast share of November
sweeps was under 50 percent for the first time. Meanwhile,
cable ratings continued to climb.
believes these changes were rooted in the viewing behavior
of a group called "media-actives," viewers born
since the mid-1970s who have never known a world without cable
TV, videogames, and the Internet. They grew up with a "what
I want, when I want it" attitude towards entertainment
and media, and as a result take a more active role in media
selection than previous generations.
predicted that broadcast networks would have to adapt to this
young audience as they matured and became the mainstream.
Instead, it seems that they are already setting the pace.
Older generations appear to have adopted the media-actives'
behavior more readily than anticipated.
Frank identified four key factors that appear to be influencing
these shifting viewing patterns, which define what young people
look for when watching television:
1. "The Next New Thing." First of all, the
younger generation is drawn to continuous new program introductions,
or "the next new thing," which cable programming
more often provides. Cable constantly premieres new shows
with shorter seasons and fewer episodes of a series. Despite
its current attempts at launching new series year-round, broadcast
networks still focus on the fall season. Moreover, broadcast
shows are ideally created to run forever.
viewers are also drawn to programming that refreshes often.
This partly explains the popularity of reality shows such
as The Real World, Survivor, or The Bachelor, which "reboot"
every season with new casts and locales.
"On My Terms." The second factor is the viewers'
need to watch "on their terms." As videogames, DVDs,
and the Web have become more appealing, young people have
pushed their TV viewing later into the night. The traditional
"prime time" represents a decreasing share of their
viewing. In fact, MTV does not even start its so-called prime
time until 10 pm, with "The 10 Spot." Furthermore,
cable frequently airs repeats and marathons. Some broadcasters
have begun to imitate this; for example, the WB reruns its
prime shows on Sunday afternoons.
"Real Life versus 'Reel Life.'" The third factor
is the appeal of watching "real life versus reel life."
The boundaries between television and the actual world are
increasingly blurred, and reality TV is not the only manifestation
of this. Media content has become more hands-on via interactive
digital technology, and more easily transferable and shared.
As a result, anyone or anything could end up on TV. Meanwhile,
as real people are elevated to the level of celebrities, celebrities
are brought down to earth with shows like Punk'd and
This audience also wants information that can be integrated
into their lives. They want to be educated as well as entertained.
On shows such as CSI or Forensic Files, knowledge
is the star. The rise of how-to programming such as Queer
Eye for the Straight Guy, Trading Spaces, and Extreme
Makeovers reflects this generation's belief that "If
I don't like things the way they are, I can change or customize
"The Search for Diversity." Finally, this generation
searches for variety and diversity. In 2003, the variety of
cable networks and cable originals blossomed. There was also
more comfort in talking about race, ethnicity, and sexual
In summary, the lesson of 2003 from a viewer perspective is
that young people are driving programming trends, and their
parents are not far behind. All viewers recognize that there
is programming that appeals to them across the spectrum, and
that they can pick and choose networks and shows that meet
Heyward, president of CBS News, calls young people "information
impressionists," Frank explained, because of the way
they go to different sources for news, and then reassemble
it in a way that is relevant and convenient. This means, for
example, combining The Daily Show and Yahoo with word-of-mouth
to feel informed.
said we could broaden this notion and consider viewers as
"media impressionists," choosing programs that are
relevant to them, without caring much about what channels
they are watching.
JENKINS, Comparative Media Studies director: What exactly
does the word "participation" mean in an MTV context?
Media companies seem to be sending mixed signals. Networks
want us to use new communication technologies to participate,
encouraging us to be grassroots niche marketers for the content
they are producing, but they are against it in other ways.
What kinds of participation is MTV invested in? For example,
if a loyal viewer of MTV wanted to share his enthusiasm by
circulating downloaded media content, is that a form of participation
MTV is willing to accept?
MTV accepts content sharing when it functions as promotion.
There are similar issues with video-on-demand. Ideally, MTV
programs on demand will make people want to watch the regular
channel more as well. Anything that makes people less inclined
to watch the channel is problematic, because the advertising
is how we make money.
The meaning of "diversity" also seems to be in dispute.
Do we really live in a world with so many choices, or are
certain ideas pushed forward aggressively while others are
withheld? Is there more that could be done to represent actual
diversity of viewpoints rather than of demographics?
I believe it depends on who owns the media outlets, and what
they allow or try to achieve.
Another area that interests me is the issue of relevance.
I agree that MTV Networks, with the "Rock the Vote"
campaign, or Linda Ellerbee's work at Nickelodeon, has done
a better job at bringing public affairs issues to this generation
than the mainstream media. Can you talk more about what you
mean by "relevance"? What are the implications of
young people getting their news from entertainment programs?
From comedy shows like The Daily Show, young people
tend to only get the stereotypes of political figures. On
MTV, we try to do actual interviews with newsworthy people.
We do a lot of public affairs polling of young people for
MTV News. We make programs that attempt to impart real knowledge
of the issues, and get young people involved.
THORBURN, MIT Communications Forum director: Can you tell
us more about the MTV deprivation experiments?
We got the idea from Pizza Hut, which conducted an experiment
where subjects were not allowed to eat pizza for a month.
They learned a lot about what pizza meant to these people.
to see what would happen if we took MTV away. We recruited
50 people who swore not to watch any MTV or visit MTV.com
for one month. Everyone kept diaries, and used tape recorders
and cameras to record their activities. The results were unbelievable.
We got such rich data from this small sample of people. We
did study a small sample, so this is not something we'll project
to the million homes that get MTV.
dropped out. Others felt alienated because they were deprived
of a certain medium. They felt at a social disadvantage compared
to their peers because they couldn't join in conversations.
They didn't know much about new movies coming out.
WILDE, Pencilogic: Nice presentation. I appreciate it,
but I think if you were a priest you'd be hauled out of here
as a pedophile.
marketing strategy, in which you microdesign media into a
vehicle for aggressive consumption, really borders on corporate
pedophilia. I am also guessing you have other research that
implicates MTV in such cause-and-effect concerns as teen suicide,
teen plastic surgery, teen obesity, and teen debt. My question
is, how would MTV change if every viewer were your 12-year-old
I don't have a 12-year-old daughter. Feel free to ask me any
questions you want. I have a different opinion of what MTV
Networks is providing to the various audiences that we serve.
no qualms about MTV programming. We provide entertainment
and information. Your phrase, 'corporate pedophilia,' is certainly
one I haven't heard before, but I really think your concern
for the children of America is unfounded. I think you can
sleep easy tonight and know they'll be okay.
I want to encourage the audience to ask hard questions, but
let's be more reasonable in the way we label our guests. This
is not an acceptable way to converse with someone, and it
makes serious disagreement and argument almost impossible.
We need to aim for a level of civility and personal respect
in these forums.
I wouldn't ask a question in that way, but I do share some
of the concerns that inform that question: the fact that advertising
is directed at 12 year olds.
question is about the phenomenon of The Daily Show
being a program where young people are allegedly getting useful
political information. Does your research show who's watching
it and what they are gleaning from it?
FRANK: The Daily Show is primarily a comedy
show, but several newsworthy political figures have appeared
on the program. Ratings for the Daily Show are at an all-time
high, with a concentration of young men, 18-34. But that's
really the profile of Comedy Central. Stewart's show doesn't
attract an audience whose profile is different from that of
Jon Stewart sees himself as only one part of how young people
get information. He is certainly cynical and a little dark,
but very funny. I think he's happy to be doing a show where
he can say what he wants. There was a rumor that he might
go to over to a broadcast network, maybe to CBS, but he felt
he'd lose that freedom of expression.
Did you want to address the comment about young children and
Not to make this worse, but Nickelodeon's target audience
is 4 to 11. There are a lot of things being done now in terms
of looking at our own practices and licensed products seriously,
with social issues in mind. For example, we are very conscious
of youth obesity, and we are creating a pro-social initiative
to encourage kids to be more active, such as with Nickelodeon's
"Let's Just Play" campaign.
FERNANDEZ, CMS graduate student: How did you choose the
sample of people for your MTV deprivation experiments? There
are so many other channels and outlets, how could anyone feel
deprived in such a heavily populated mediascape?
We chose heavy viewers of MTV, people who watched a certain
number of hours per week. They were chosen through a random
telephone sample. I think I made it clear that this was not
a representative sample in any way of the entire viewing audience.
IF you were a chief strategist at a broadcast network and
you are given this marketing data about niches that indicates
you must "differentiate or die," will that preclude
you from creating the big hit shows such as the MASH
or Seinfeld of this year because the trend takes you
away from that kind of broad programming?
I think the broadcast model is flawed, and I think there are
things that could change. One of the biggest issues for the
broadcast networks is the notion of prime time. There is this
outcry that young men 18-34 are not watching television, but
the fact is that the declines are around those prime-time
slots, three hours a night and four on Sunday. The fact is
that they are watching plenty of television.
If I were
a broadcast network, I would experiment by pushing so-called
"late night" to midnight instead of 11; I would
show so-called prime-time shows later; I would try as much
mind, that even though cable television is growing as an entity,
on any given night a big broadcaster still has the largest
audience. They need to take some risky moves, but they still
get big audiences. I think they'll figure it out.
Do you share your research with other companies?
We share freely with other Viacom companies, but other channels
like CBS aren't as interested in MTV research, because they
are interested in different types of viewers.
What is the impact of having an entire series on DVD?
We haven't seen a huge impact on our own audiences yet. We
look at DVD as a positive means of promotion. However, we
are aware that watching DVDs could be taking time away from
watching our networks' programming.
Why did MTV move away from showing music videos to series
It all began with The Real World, the first of the
long-form shows. It was primarily a business decision. Music
videos, which are considered short-form programming, get a
rating of 0.5 percent and have a hard time retaining viewers.
Long-form programming means that viewers stay with the channel
for at least 30 minutes, which helps increase ratings.
U.S., MTV doesn't have much competition in showing music videos,
so the brand name still means a lot. In countries like the
UK, where dozens of other channels provide music videos, the
MTV brand means less. However, it gets its brand recognition
through original shows like The Real World.
ROSE, MIT Sloan School: You alluded to video-on-demand
as a threat to the advertising-based business model of current
programming, but at the same time it provides opportunities
for licensing content and introducing MTV to new audiences.
Do you perceive it to be more of a threat or opportunity?
How will it affect programming decisions?
We won't fight video-on-demand because the cable operators
love it, and it increases viewer satisfaction. Short-form
programming actually does better on demand, because you can
request something for a short amount of time.
REITMAN, MIT Department of Urban Studies: Where did the
name "pro-social" programming come from? Does it
imply that other programming is anti-social? Can you tell
us more about your networks' pro-social initiatives?
MTV Networks strongly believes every network has to do something
positive and informative for their audiences. MTV's pro-social
programs are not being done for the ratings. For example,
last year we had a forum with Colin Powell that drew low ratings,
even though it received much attention from the press. VH1
has always been active with the "Save the Music"
campaign to bring music programs into schools. Spike TV has
a men's health initiative.
Cable shows tend to run for a few seasons, while broadcast
networks try to run their shows forever. What are your opinions
of long-run shows, and why don't your networks produce them?
The broadcast model favors long-run shows. MTV's young audience
tends to have a quick burnout. For example, The Osbournes
was the hottest show on TV in its first season, but the second
year was not the same.
KWAN, MIT Sloan School: Can you talk about research in
overseas markets, such as for MTV Asia or Latin America? What
trends do you see happening around the world, but are not
happening in the U.S.?
I'm not too familiar with MTV international channels. We did
a study a few years ago on how the notion of "cool"
gets translated around the world. Even with things like the
Internet, there are trends that will always be unique to one
country or area.