Marketing to Gen-MTV: Evolve or Die

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The following is an edited excerpt from MTV Networks CEO Judy McGrath’s July 18 keynote speech at the CTAM Summit in Boston.

Marketing media has always been hard. And it’s probably harder today, in the digital age, than ever before. It never stops. It’s a world that seems to head off in new directions by the hour. And that’s the good news. We are all energized.

New tech and new tools have ushered in new consumer behavior, it has unleashed people’s pent-up demand for “more.”

We really need to know those people better than ever before. Our customers aren’t being targeted. They’re being hunted and snared and trapped individually, and collectively, by businesses who know their demographic identity, probably their five screen names and their MySpace profile …

These consumers have a seemingly endless appetite for content. More opportunities to watch it, store it, mix and mash it, tag it and share it with friends.

I overheard a fascinating conversation the other day. An intern said he had checked Planet Lycos, and caught up with four friends. “They’ve been my friends for three years now.”

“Where did you meet them?” he was asked. The answer: “Meet them?! Why would I want to meet them?” …

… We are deeply involved in gaming, in community, in downloads, in broadband, because they are central to our viewers’ lives, and thus, central to our brand definition. We’ve brought some new brands into the family through the acquisitions of Neopets, GameTrailers and Xfire. For buzzworthy user-generated content, we have iFilm. These great new brands stand side by side with [Nickelodeon] and MTV and Comedy Central.

Because in our business today, you’ve got to fire on all cylinders, across all platforms. On demand. The imperative for us, for all companies today, is clear: Relevance. Or irrelevance.

At my place, we keep our eyes on the prize: our multitasking, ripping, burning, techno-morphing audience. Your customers. They lead us. They program us. They drive us. And drive us crazy some times.

To keep up with them, we ask ourselves some basic questions: Who is the audience? What do they need? How fast can we get it to them?

Our people are the early adopters, the mavens of new media. It’s their tastes and behaviors that fuel MTV Networks as we morph into a company wired for the digital age. They represent the most loyal, creative and diverse community in the world, from Diego and Dora through MTV World.

They want to participate. They want to leave their mark on the media landscape because that’s where they build their communities today. Online, on-air, on the phone. Constantly in touch with what matters and with each other. Remember when being sent to your room was a punishment? Now it’s the center of your personal ecosystem.

You think we create a lot of content? Think about this: on a typical day, 57% of all American teenagers will generate content for the Web, from text to pictures, music and video — spending about three hours on the internet. Every single day.

Nine out of 10 use it to help with homework. Two-thirds use e-mail constantly. About half of all teens download music every day. And cell phones, especially phones that text? Critical. They’re like an adjunct organ. Mobile usage among — get this — eight-to-11-year-olds more than doubled this year.

So for a content company like we are, reinvention is the game today. Evolve or die.

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