Mobile, social and traditional TV screens, as well as almost anything new, are all in the mix as MTV describes its strategy to engage, immerse and amplify its audience. Those are the three key words that came up repeatedly with Taylor and O'Ferrall as they explained the challenges of reaching a generation that is now flooding into universities and work places.
“Millennials were born connected,” said O'Ferrall “and expect us to be everywhere. So we’ve spent a great deal of effort over the last five or six years, and probably exponentially more in the last year, around ensuring we can provide a platform for our brand partners to interact with our audience on basically any device at any time. And that, to be honest, in many ways underpins decisions and choices we make around our programming.”
“The big thing we are learning is that for our audience,” Taylor continued “it’s no longer about marketing at the audience or simply buying media to sell a message. What we have to do is genuinely engage with the audience and allow them to be really immersed in the brand. So we’re doing that on a number of different fronts.”
The company reviews programming on a short horizon of only a matter of months to make sure shows and events are still relevant, and social media play a big part of that.
“If you even look at television programming a year ago, its completely different today," said O'Ferrall. "All our shows now need to be creating social media spikes, not just one per series but maybe six or 10 moments per episode.”
The reality-TV type programming the channel largely spearheaded and made popular across the world is pivotal to its influence. Taylor highlighted that MTV’s casts of characters are ones audiences identify with and, perhaps more importantly, can reach out to on social media. That’s part of the engagement factor that shifts views from passive to active participation and keeps them “immersed”. Award shows, she explained, are also a vehicle for generating dialogue and engagement. There’s a sense of community when people start social-media conversations about a shared event, even if they are whole countries apart.
“It’s about nurturing our audience's talent as well,” Taylor added. The music and entertainment brand runs many events throughout the year that bring viewers together for opportunities to showcase their musical, digital or visual skills.
At the end of last summer, for example, MTV worked with Lenovo to launch CO:LAB, a social platform that brought creative millennials from seven countries—India, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand—together to share stories about their communities through music. Winning participants then had to collaborate to produce an original music video.
The six-month concept connected viewers who are also DJs, instrumentalists, filmmakers or graphic artists in their own right. To support them, Lenovo and MTV assembled local and regional mentors to guide and share knowledge. Then it was up to the public to vote for their favourite talent through the Lenovo-MTV CO:LAB website.
Content flowed from programming to event to social media, engaging and amplifying MTV’s core audience along the way. Brand partner Lenovo gained considerable exposure, and this is what Taylor and O'Ferrall characterize as a “bigger immersive experience with the brand.”
This is also the blueprint for future programming: driving content from the channel itself to the fans and back as they interact on social media and even become part of the shows and events themselves.
O'Ferrall claims MTV is one of the world’s most social brands, with 233 million Facebook fans and over 30 million Twitter followers. And while talking about the programming he says “It's really about brand integration and making sure we don’t just provide a pure TV spot sale. It’s very integrated, on our website, on an app, our mobile platform, within our social-media environment. So we try and provide as many touchpoints as possible.”
When the company considers new programmes, the social-media aspect is a key ingredient. “We always ask ourselves, 'Is this something our audience is going to want to talk about?',” said Taylor. “If it's not then it's not something we would want to make. Our audiences want to connect with the shows.”
Even Instagram plays a role in the channel’s music programming. For example, about 4,000 music requests came in over the photo-sharing app for just one show. Neither Taylor nor O'Ferrall found that surprising “because that’s the way the audience engages.”
“Clearly there is a great deal of interest when we have a show and social and web and mobile all together,” O'Ferrall said. “But what was surprising was something around one of the music stunts we do. We put up a list of popular music and asked people to vote. You might expect tens of thousands of votes, but at one last summer we got well in excess of 160 million votes” through social media.
“In the UK we were the first brand to use Snapchat to engage with our audience,” Kerry said. “So very much for us it’s about staying at the forefront.” She admits though, that not everything the company tries works. But the experimenting is important. “That alone is part of the conversation with youth and finding those things that can engage and amplify.”
When asked how MTV measures what constitutes a success, Taylor said definitively “what’s great about today is your audience can let you know immediately.”
“We always strive to be on every platform and provide some sort of connectivity and shareability with application at any time” said O'Ferrall picking up the thought, “that’s really at the heart of everything we do; it’s at the heart of our audiences' lives.”
“We’re still learning that lesson,” said Taylor in conclusion. “New technology is turning up everyday. The most important thing for us is, even though we’re a global brand with a long heritage, we have to remain fresh, literally on a day-by-day basis and be prepared to make mistakes and try things.”