The World: MTV puts full weight behind digital strategies

The music broadcaster is going all out to increase the revenues generated by new digital platforms.

MTV, once the frontrunner in music television, is now playing catch-up with the iPod generation. As its target demographic increasingly looks to mobile, broadband and video-on-demand services for its content, MTV is being forced to step up its digital activities.

At its annual sales presentation in New York earlier this month, the Viacom-owned broadcaster outlined plans to increase revenue generated by new platforms from its current $150 million to $500 million by 2008.

"With each platform we are trying to expand our reach and increase our income," Angel Gambino, the vice-president for commercial strategy and digital media at MTV Networks UK, says. "It's about extending our channels and our brands to new and other platforms, and into newer areas, such as MTV Overdrive into broadband."

In addition to mobile TV channels for the MTV, Nickelodeon, Paramount Comedy and Game One brands across Europe, MTV's broadband suite includes Nicke-lodeon's Turbo-Nick, VH1's V Spot, Comedy Central's Motherload, MTV U's Uber, CMT's Loaded and its newest addition, MTV Overdrive. Launched in the UK last month, MTV Overdrive is an online free-to-view, on-demand service, offering viewers clips from MTV shows such as Pimp My Ride, as well as news, movie trailers and music videos.

Along with repackaged popular programmes from its linear channels, MTV's broadband and mobile services offer extras from original series and bespoke digital content.

"While shooting shows for our broadcast channels, our production crews are now also briefed to shoot extra footage so that it can be delivered to mobile or PC," Dan Whiley, the commercial vice-president of digital media at MTV Networks International, says.

"We release two to three original made-for-digital series per year and make one hour of made-for-mobile content and one hour of made-for-broadband content every week. We also create eight to ten mobile games and up to 300 mobile downloads, such as ringtones and graphics, every year."

Gambino believes that these media platforms could also provide MTV Networks, which attracts 1.3 billion viewers worldwide, with a useful testing ground for new programming.

"When we are unsure how something might work, it allows us to use these platforms as an incubation area to build up some critical mass and then find it the right place in the TV schedule," she says, pointing to the upcoming transition of the street-culture show Barrio 19 from mobile to network.

MTV is also fine-tuning its digital strategy to accommodate the increasing popularity of social networks and user-generated content sites such as MySpace and YouTube. Viacom has been busy creating the online music service MTV Urge for launch in the US this month. It has also acquired the online film distributor IFILM, the virtual pet community Neopets and the gaming properties Gametrailers and Xfire.

Meanwhile, MTV has been putting the finishing touches to a new crossplatform channel aimed at its web-savvy audience. "It's completely community- and user-controlled TV," Gambino says of the as-yet-unnamed service, which is due to launch later this year.

"You create your own playlist and are able to get your content up on screen. It ties together social networking, video-on-demand and user-generated content."

She also maintains that the new crossplatform channel will offer advertisers a more efficient showcase. "A lot of advertisers spend a lot on TV advertising," she says. "This will give them the opportunity to take an integrated approach."

While MySpace, Google and YouTube have undoubtedly made an impact online, Whiley believes MTV has a clear advantage in this new space. "We've been entertaining youth and adult audiences for a long time," he says. "This puts us in a great position with our audiences, and we really don't view these sites as direct competitors."

It is precisely this longevity that may ultimately attract advertisers to MTV's digital offshoots. "The demographics aren't radically different from people watching the TV channels, but, if the advertising is done properly, advertisers gain premium content to associate themselves with and the benefit of targeting," Dan Cryan, an analyst at the media market research publication Screen Digest, says.

Mat Mildenhall, the chief operating officer at Proximity, agrees. "MTV will not have the scale of Yahoo!, but it will be a much narrower audience," he says. "If you are a trusted brand, you need to be careful how you operate in that space in terms of spam and intrusion, but most people will be gleeful to get MTV content."

So far, MTV has seen almost all its big sponsors, such as Adidas and Sony, advertise with it online and others are likely to follow suit. "MTV has a strong brand which will attract a decent-sized, youth, fashion-orientated audience," Julian Smith, an online advertising analyst at JupiterResearch, says.

As well as being a significant revenue source for MTV, online advertising could also help to build a social network around its digital content. "MTV has a well-established community which is happy to contribute and participate online," Smith says. "Interactivity is a great way to generate revenue and maintain audience loyalty."

MTV is also hoping that this drive into digital media will help take the brand into new territories. With Europe already a stronghold - the region's digital activities yield the fastest growth rates for MTV's international business - Gambino is looking to push further afield. "We'll start to see a lot more digital growth in countries where our TV business is less mature," she says. "We'll use that as our lead."