The pre-roll ads, starting in the next week, will run across MTV's video-on-demand content on Sprint and Alltel before expanding to other U.S. wireless operators.
The ads will promote custom episodes of MTV's made-for-mobile series "The How-To Show," sponsored by the Air Force. Instead of clips in which the musicians, celebrities and athletes reveal their tricks of the trade, the sponsored episodes will showcase Air Force-related skills.
"Doing the custom programming is a cool way to integrate the Air Force brand with our programming on mobile," said Greg Clayman, MTV's EVP of digital distribution and business development. "But in terms of scaling, we expect to do much more in mobile advertising in general."
Wireless carriers have been hesitant about running advertising with mobile video for fear of alienating customers already paying extra for data subscriptions to access mobile media. But Clayman believes carriers are gradually warming to more advertising.
"The basic concept is that all media to date is to some degree ad-supported," he said. "I think everyone is coming around to that realization on mobile as well." Even so, he noted that the Air Force campaign pre-rolls will be kept short--7 seconds compared to the 15-second spots that are more prevalent on the desktop Web.
The Air Force and other U.S. military branches in recent years have extended recruiting efforts to the Web and other new media to reach young audiences.
"MTV Mobile, along with other Viacom Mobile properties is a top destination for mobile phone users aged 16 to 24 and has played an integral role in the Air Force's mobile strategy," said Jim Askins, the Air Force's recruiting service account executive, in a statement. The "How-To" campaign was developed by GSD&M Idea City in Austin, Texas.
MTV and its carrier partners will share ad revenues from the effort on an undisclosed basis.
MTV distributes programming via the data services of all the major carriers as well as through mobile media providers such as MobiTV. Verizon's V Cast video service, for instance, touts full episodes and exclusive clips from MTV shows including "The Hills," "Real World," and "America's Best Dance Crew."
MTV also offers mobile versions of properties including Comedy Central and Nickelodeon through Verizon and other carriers.
The network streamed 10 million videos across its mobile VOD outlets in July, according to a company spokesman.
The U.S. mobile video audience remains limited. Only 4% of cell phone subscribers watch mobile TV or video as of the end of the second quarter, according to Nielsen Mobile. But mobile video subscriptions have grown 25% in the last year.
Separately, MTV said it will partner with carriers using the MobiTV mobile television service to launch a research project to learn more about how to optimize mobile video advertising. MTV also plans to experiment with pre-rolls of different lengths and formats to determine which are the most effective.