New Breed Of Viewer, New Breed Of VMAs

Surprised that viewership was down by almost 50% for the VMAs this year? I’m not. And that dip isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Looking at years past, the VMAs were home to artists like U2, Madonna and Beck, all giving adult-oriented performances. Over the past few years there’s been a sea change toward youthful acts, and this year’s show confirmed it with wunderkinds like Taylor Swift and One Direction taking center stage as the most anticipated artists to watch.

So, what’s behind this shift? The rise of Generation Z.

From the red carpet to the performances, and all the advertising in between, it was abundantly clear that the VMAs were skewed largely towards a younger audience. Once again, MTV showed us that youth culture is forever changing and dominant, and at some point you will no longer be invited to the party. How did I know I wasn’t the primary target for this year’s awards? When I saw 27 million people tweet about One Direction.



For some time now in the marketing world, it’s been all about Millennials. But it’s clear that MTV is starting to look at the next generation of consumers; Generation Z, those born between 1994 and 2004. They’re what I like to think of as the “Wired Generation.” This might also account for why we saw that 50% drop in viewership, unofficially down from 12.5 million in 2011 to 6.4 million this year. Looking closely at this Wired Generation, we know that they are largely a second-screen audience who is drawn to content that allows for active viewing, even more so than the Millennial generation. Having grown up on social networks, these digital natives want to do more than just watch - they want to be involved in the conversation. And this year MTV, along with its sponsors, went all out to capture that behavior. The focus wasn’t just on “tuning-in” (as we all remember back in the day) – it was on engagement around the event, artists, and sponsors … which means the number of people who tuned-in isn’t an accurate measurement for the event’s success.

Last week, we saw the Twitter tracker sponsored by Verizon, we saw Pepsi Now photographers with their all-access behind-the-scenes photo feed, and we even saw Bing debut a new award voted on by fans -- all of which engaged these young Gen Z’ers on multiple platforms. 

Another example of this cross-engagement was Covergirl, one of the shows official sponsors. It was able to refresh the red-carpet experience, keeping the conversation centered on style, while elevating it in a more dynamic way. In the preshow, Pink and Janelle Monae were announced as the two new official faces of the brand, followed by a performance by Pink that was choreographed with the brand top of mind.

All in all, there was a seamless flow to the VMAs – in fact, the show was advertainment.

One thing we remind ourselves at our agency is that all connections should be strategically initiated and consumer informed. To me, it’s clear that’s how the broadcasters approached this year’s VMAs. 

They know people still want their MTV, they just want it on lots of screens.

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