Commentary

And the Winner in the Raciest New Celebrity Improvisation Is...

The MTV "Video Music Awards" are upon us - and that can mean only one thing - a new-and-improved lesbian kiss, or perhaps the showing of Janet Jackson's other breast. But the main question is: will advertisers pay less for these ho-hum programming elements?

The New York Times devoted stories last week and yesterday to the upcoming "Video Music Awards" show (Aug. 29) - traditionally MTV's highest- rated TV program of the year. It's MTV's Super Bowl, if you will.

MTV got more headlines then it bargained for last year, in producing the last year's half-time show at the real Super Bowl, which televised Justin Timberlake ripping off a piece of Janet Jackson's clothing to reveal one of her breasts. The event will perhaps be branded forever as "The Boob Bowl" -- although considering the number of erectile dysfunction ads, one executive said "The Boner Bowl" would be more apt.

Now people are pointing at MTV's other big TV show, the "VMAs," where last year Madonna played tongue-hockey with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Should this be a concern?

The New York Times covered all predictable grounds - getting reaction from advertisers and discussing whether MTV's five-second delay will prevent artists' new racy improvisations.

The press commonly asks the question: Has MTV's brashness gone too far? But the question that wasn't asked: Can advertisers turn this into a good thing -- monetarily speaking? With MTV on the defensive, can advertisers gain had any price leverage?

Because of its high demand, MTV heavily packages its prized "VMA" ad inventory with a truckload of ad time in other programming for the event's sponsors. One advertiser has gone so far as to call these ad deals "mini- upfronts." So the $30 million in advertising revenue the "VMAs" rakes in, that The New York Times noted - is actually much larger - maybe $100 million, maybe even more.

Did advertisers pay less for the "VMAs" because MTV might be in a vulnerable position? We don't know.

Maybe the press should examine the real content difference in "VMAs" versus that of the Super Bowl to learn the real score.

Advertisers were publicly shocked by the Super Bowl half-time show. But you didn't hear many advertisers complaining about Madonna's smooches at the "VMAs." Why? They'd say, "You know, it's just MTV being MTV." Shock value is good, and so are high ratings. Young viewers know to come back every year.

The Super Bowl is different, however. In the wake of Janet Jackson, the Super Bowl -- all of a sudden - was called 'family viewing' by ad execs. That means young kids watch it. But "VMAs" would not be called family viewing - even though young kids watch it as well.

What's the difference? Not much. Since when are violent football games with skimpily-dressed cheerleaders any more or less family entertainment than skimpily-dressed, popular singers crooning about sex and violence.

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