MTV Tries Singing In Different Key

What's up with MTV? More executive changes at the seemingly never-ending continuation of the upheaval started when Philippe Dauman replaced Tom Freston as Viacom's chief executive.

MTV is letting several executives go and reassigning several others as part of a reorganization under new programming chief Tony DiSanto.

There's more. Going into this upfront, MTV had better be singing in the right key. The network has seen lower ratings, and, increasingly, competition from the likes of YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, Heavy.com, or a host of others that have been able to tickle the fancy of young adults.

If that isn't all, MTV is looking to make a stand this upfront -- trying to tell advertisers that commercial ratings stuff isn't for them. This is in contrast to most broadcast networks, and many cable networks, who will sell programs using commercial ratings. MTV's execs, as well as those of other cable networks, have said Nielsen can't seem to accurately measure commercials when it comes to cable networks.

Even considering this, there is still the general consensus that MTV is among the worst cable networks regarding program-to-commercial audience retention. Unlike other TV viewers, those young kids don't seem to want to hang around during commercial breaks; they'd rather be text messaging, fooling around on the Internet, or perhaps watching a YouTube video.

But many agencies aren't giving in, because their clients are demanding commercial ratings -- for everything -- if not conceding to add three days of DVR playback as well. Even then, most cable networks are willing to consider guaranteeing viewers based on commercials ratings. MTV? They want to do business the old-fashioned way -- sell off of program ratings.

That's s so... 2005.

Perhaps MTV, as a concession, ought to offer advertising with some engagement metrics that the folk at IAG Research are selling. Maybe MTV is already a client. Are young people engaged with MTV programming -- and, therefore, the commercials? Better hope so.

MTV's one saving grace is that one of its major advertising categories is movie studios, companies that aren't exactly enamored with the metric that includes commercial ratings -- or commercial ratings plus three days of DVR playback.

Some of those movie clients, in fact, may secretly want program ratings guarantees for this upfront. Most, though, are hopeful they can get guarantees using commercials ratings plus same day DVR playback guarantees. All this is necessary because of the immediacy of trying to sell a movie that could be opening the next day.

MTV's other big clients - video games, home video, beverages, and telecommunications -- are probably standing firm, with their media agencies' way of thinking , on commercial ratings plus three days of DVR playback.

In the mid-'90s, MTV changed business around by holding its ground, with the bet that advertisers would pay whatever was necessary to be associated with the only TV brand around that mattered to young people. It worked, and MTV gained major CPM increases in the years that followed.

A decade and a half later, MTV seems to be taking another major stand -- but in a totally different marketplace. Will this work? Or, is it just going to piss off media agency and advertising executives during perhaps the slowest-moving, most examined and analyzed upfront in years?

Better think twice.

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