Superbrands case studies: MTV

Originally published in 'Consumer Superbrands Volume VI', July 2004. The book reviews the UK's strongest consumer brands as judged by an independent judging panel.

Case study provided by Superbrands.

When MTV first launched in the US 23 years ago, it was the first television channel of its kind anywhere in the world. Although MTV US today is in the enviable position of operating in a marketplace largely devoid of competitors, in the UK things could not be more different.

There are few -- if any -- TV markets in the world as crowded as the UK music television market. Over 50% of households now have digital television and viewers can pick from a mind-boggling 25 music channels specialising in every kind of music, from pop to punk to classical.
MTV first became available in the UK in 1987, and currently accounts for nine of the total number of music channels, with flagship destinations MTV UK & Ireland and VH1, as well as the music genre-dedicated channels MTV2, MTV Base, MTV Hits, MTV Dance, VH1 Classic, VH2 and TMF. EMAP currently account for a further seven channels and Sky recently upped the ante with three new music channels.
With so much choice, it could be expected that each channel's audience would diminish as viewers spread themselves more thinly. However, by the end of 2003 music viewing was actually up 24% year-on-year as shows like 'The Osbournes' brought in viewers from outside traditional music audiences.
MTV Networks account for 57% (2003 average) of total music viewing and regularly out-rates its nearest competitor by a ratio of 2:1 (Source: BARB). Each month 18.2 million people tune in to the network and in 2003 the MTV UK & Ireland channel alone saw growth of 40%. Conversely, in December 2003 EMAP experienced a 21% decline in ratings year-on-year, and has lost ground to new arrivals within the market.

2003 saw MTV UK & Ireland winning Best Non-Terrestrial Channel at the Media Guardian Edinburgh International TV Festival, and being nominated for a Broadcast Award. It scooped two Promax awards, won three accolades at the Interactive Music Awards -- including 'Best Interactive Music TV Programme' for 'TRL' - and 'Best TV Programme' for 'The Osbournes' at the NME 'Brat' Awards.

MTV UK & Ireland also experienced its highest year of ratings ever, regularly out-rating BBC2, Five and Sky One in multi-channel homes. Highlights like the 'MTV Video Music Awards' (featuring 'that kiss') and the 'MTV Movie Awards' (where the Beckhams showed America how to 'bling' with a dazzling red carpet arrival) kept MTV in the headlines all year long. But whereas MTV might be expected to provide the year's music and entertainment highlights, it also broadcast a Q&A with Tony Blair in which young people grilled the PM over imminent war in Iraq.
2003 also saw MTV UK double its programming investment and launch a raft of home-grown shows including 'Total Request Live' (TRL) and 'Dirty Sanchez'. Combined with MTV US hits like 'The Osbournes', 'Punk'd', 'Cribs' and 'Jackass', the channel has formidable appointment-to-view slots -- most notably at the highly competitive time of 10pm.

MTV US was launched in 1981 by a group of young music enthusiasts. Six months and two million subscribers later it had engendered enough support within the music industry to launch a bold brand campaign featuring artists such as David Bowie and Mick Jagger asserting the statement 'I Want My MTV'.
MTV soon became synonymous with big exclusives and astonishing money-can't-buy prizes. Viewers won everything from their own radio station or island to the opportunity to have stars play concerts in their living rooms. Celebrity presenters included Adam Ant and Eddie Murphy and programming was fronted by pop culture luminaries such as Andy Warhol.
When MTV Europe launched in 1987 it initially consisted of one 'fit all' channel broadcasting across the continent. Within eighteen months, and despite fledgling cable and satellite saturation, MTV Europe reached 6.7 million homes. Early milestones for the channel included the first MTV Europe Music Awards live from Berlin's Brandenburg Gate in 1994, and becoming the first 24-hour a day foreign channel in the Soviet Union.
The need for localised content saw the launch of MTV UK & Ireland in 1997, with home-grown presenters such as Cat Deeley and Sara Cox. A year later, MTV UK launched M2 (later becoming MTV2), heralding a raft of further genre-specific channels in 1999.
Globally MTV currently has 43 channels in 166 territories reaching over 395 million homes.

One of MTV's key strengths is locality. Programming, play lists and presenters are all chosen for local relevance, offering the regional picture alongside the global. Tastes are not universal, and although there will always be artists who transcend international boundaries, MTV makes sure that British audiences see acts of British interest, such as The Darkness, Amy Winehouse and Lemar.
The on-air look extends this local relevance. MTV UK is distinctively British, with a credible yet cheekily irreverent tone. Its raft of presenters provide 'faces' for the channels and enhance the viewer's relationship with MTV.
MTV Networks UK & Ireland comprises nine channels, each with its own distinct personality and music speciality.

MTV UK & Ireland is the flagship channel, featuring chart hits and innovative entertainment programming. It is home to 'water-cooler' programmes from MTV US including 'The Osbournes', 'Cribs' and 'Punk'd'. MTV UK productions include 'TRL', featuring daily A-list star interviews, live music performances and cult hits like 'Dirty Sanchez', starring four outrageous, fearless Welshmen.
The remaining channels all have their own easily definable identities. Each channel unites its viewers through a sense of shared community inspired by mutual dedication to a specific music genre.
Anti-establishment MTV2 specialises in rock and indie with flagship show 'Gonzo', hosted by music supremo Zane Lowe, showcasing up-coming and established alternative artists.
Conversely MTV Base is the premier urban music destination, encapsulated by signature show Trevor Nelson's 'The Lick'. Both MTV Base and 'The Lick' portray an ultimately authoritative position on the world of R&B and hip-hop.
With MTV Hits as the perfect accessory for pop lovers and MTV Dance as the only 24/7-dedicated home for dance music, viewers know that whatever their musical and lifestyle preferences, they have a match amongst the MTV channels.
But, of course, MTV is a global network, and its scale -- combined with the longevity of its relationships with labels and artists -- enables it to stage the biggest, most talked about music award ceremonies in the world.
Annual events like the 'MTV Video Music Awards' and the 'MTV Europe Music Awards' see the cream of music's A-list lining up to perform. Regular appearances from the likes of Madonna, J-Lo, Eminem, Britney and Beyonce ensure these ceremonies are seen by more than a billion viewers each and dominate the world's media for weeks at a time.

Recent developments
MTV's crowning moment of 2003 came courtesy of the tenth annual MTV Europe Music Awards on the home-turf of Edinburgh. Christina Aguilera hosted a spectacular evening, with performances from Justin Timberlake, Beyonce, and Kylie. MTV extended the brand beyond the ceremony, holding a live simultaneous event free-of-charge for 7,000 local residents. A month of live music events was also staged, travelling up the country from London to Edinburgh with artists as contrasting as Travis and Big Brovaz. On the ground in Scotland, local up-and-coming bands were given an invaluable platform on which to showcase their talents in 'Breakout Week'. With branding all over the city of Edinburgh - and beyond - more than ever before the awards became an experience and not merely a ceremony.
But whilst the awards may have been the most prominent realisation of the brand, plenty of other projects came to fruition. MTV recently launched the flagship show 'TRL', aimed at post school and college audiences and featuring big-name guests from music and film such as Pink, 50 Cent and Angelina Jolie.
Audiences also discovered the off-kilter delights of 'Dirty Sanchez', which built a loyal following and solid ratings prompting MTV to release the series on DVD to immediate commercial success.
MTV2 celebrated its fifth birthday in true rock and roll style with a legendary live broadcast from Brixton Academy, featuring Jane's Addiction and The Darkness.
Meanwhile, MTV Base and MTV Hits both regularly hit the road and bring their brands -- and featured artists -- to the viewers with monthly, televised parties.
The network also pioneers iTV 'firsts', recently creating the UK's fastest interactive television game, 'Seymour's Turbo Couch'.
Finally, MTV encourages young people to express themselves creatively on topics that affect their lives through a series of pro-social initiatives. In the last eighteen months, it has run four filmmaking competitions on subjects like mental health and HIV/AIDS. Young filmmakers submit their responses which MTV then air, giving aspiring professionals a rare opportunity to have their work broadcast and be seen by key opinion formers.

The MTV strategy is to be pioneering, innovative and smart. The aim of its marketing is to connect to discerning audiences in their own environment and in their own mindset. Executions stretch beyond mere appointment-to-view marketing, with campaigns communicating through stealth rather than big budget, blanket advertising. Events are designed to build a community and give brand value back to the viewers.
Tony Blair's recent Q&A prompted the commission of electioneering-style ad vans where members of the public were encouraged to write their questions to Tony Blair on the side.
'Gonzo On Tour' -- the MTV2 show that champions up-coming and alternative bands -- took to the road with fifteen new bands playing live in small-capacity Barfly venues throughout the country. Taking the brand back to the fans proved a compelling advertisement to an ad-cynical audience. Fans packed every venue, revelling in the intimate experience of the brand, and the music industry considered the tour an audacious venture.
MTV extended this direct communication with fans further by collaborating with record labels to use artists' album artwork in materials to promote exclusive live concert broadcasts with Coldplay, Radiohead and Justin Timberlake.
Similarly, 'Brand Spanking New Music Week' materials emulated the product for a week of televised live studio performances. Executions featured books of fake gig tickets detailing the live artists, with posters presenting the line-up as though it were a genuine music festival.
The marketing again mirrored content with the launch of 'Punk'd'. The show intrudes into the lives of celebrities, exposing them at their worst via hidden cameras. MTV road blocked commercial breaks on terrestrial and digital channels alike with voyeuristic peek-a-boo snippets of Justin Timberlake becoming increasingly tearful during a genuine 'Punk'd' stunt.
'Dirty Sanchez' -- with its painful and dangerous stunts -- needed careful promotion. The show's cultish nature meant it needed to develop word-of-mouth. Advertising took place in cinemas, where content could be more explicit, and in slots during the screening of 'Jackass The Movie', ensuring its audience constituted the most relevant and discreet demographic.
The teen-targeted 'TRL' revels in its celebrity guests, and the launch mission was to build the celebrity of relatively unknown presenter Dave Berry. A TV ad (running within teen programming on terrestrial and digital channels) featured Dave in celebrity situations, being caught by the paparazzi with Rachel Stevens and leaving a hotel with Jodie Kidd. Artwork (which ran as poster adverts on London Underground and print executions in teen press) featured strips of photos of celebrities with Dave's picture inserted discretely amongst the A-list stars.

Brand values
MTV is the pioneer of pop culture, providing viewers with the most immediate and intimate access to the music, the stars, the movies and the lifestyles they love. It attracts a core audience of 14-24 year olds.

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