MTV Programming: Always Looking For New Ways To Get Some Skin In The Game

The scandal around "Jersey Shore"? All that seems quaint now -- especially looking at what "Skins" is going through.

Concerned that "Skins" may have gone over the line, maybe breaking child pornography laws, five major advertisers at last count -- Taco Bell, Subway, H&R Block, G.M. and Wrigley -- have pulled their advertising from the program.

Is this a financial concern? I doubt the series is commercial-free yet, guessing MTV still has a few other marketers in the program.

MTV always seems to be traveling in this risky TV land. Early on "Shore" got into a bit of trouble because of how it depicted young Italian-Americans, gellin' and yellin' around the environs of the New Jersey Shore's Atlantic Ocean coastal haunts. Was that going to keep advertisers away? Not for long.



That show, which grabbed a healthy 5 million viewers on average in season two, is now rocketing the network up to new heights -- near 9 million viewers in the second episode of its third season -- as well as getting big numbers in the 12-34 demo. Advertisers love to hear that.

"Skins" has underage performers -- meaning under 18 years old. It's a scripted show with lots of racy content. The New York Times says there has been increased concern in MTV's New York offices about the producers possibly going over the line by breaking child anti-pornography laws.

All this brings MTV to another level. No longer can the network be worried only about how a show portrays a certain group of U.S. citizens -- and the morality behind that. Now, it might have to worry about how a show might be engaging in criminal activity.

Many cable networks let producers -- especially those from independent companies -- have free reign in content selection. But MTV programmers always need to have a fine eye as they getto the bleeding edge of subject matter by focusing on the relevant.

The reality here is that underage kids do have sex. The problem is how to present this -- or, some might ask, whether to present it at all.

MTV is an established network. Could it have missed some of these obvious problems? MTV runs the show at 10 p.m. and warns specifically that it is targeted to adult viewers.

That said, we have long known that the network makes its bucks from that uneasy demographic, 12-24 year olds -- a group consisting of both above legal-age adults and below legal-age teens. All this is different than say Fox's "Glee," where many of its leading actors are well into their 20s. "Skins" purposely uses real teenagers to get the right approach to a real-life subject matter.

Where do advertisers fit in? Surely, what morality they feel towards any show is one thing; whether or not it fits their media plan is another. But a third would be whether they might be supporting some sort of illegal activity. The last is obviously a killing point for marketers, and for any viable TV network.

Given MTV's long history, and its intended core audience, content controversies seem to be its mandate. How it addresses those issues will always be the harder road to travel.

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