MTV Nets Make Case for Ads

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Joining the ranks of other cable dynasties, MTV Networks last week urged advertisers to save money — and reach adults — by buying across its many programming services.

MTVN officials made the pitch at the first joint upfront presentation the Viacom Inc. unit has ever staged for all seven of its networks. It was a platform to stress that cable is just a fraction of broadcast's price.

Joint upfront

Nearly 3,000 people attended the star-studded event at The Theater at Madison Square Garden, as officials ranging from MTVN chairman Tom Freston to Viacom president Mel Karmazin pleaded for ad agencies to move money from pricey broadcast to MTV: Music Television, MTV2, Nick at Nite, TNN [soon to be redubbed Spike TV], TV Land, CMT: Country Music Television and VH1 this upfront season.

"Our plan was always to do a single upfront across all our networks with the overlay that we really now have a fairly compelling story to tell about our ability to reach the adult audience," MTVN chief operating officer and president Mark Rosenthal said in a post-upfront interview.

The goal is for media buyers to not only buy MTVN "vertically, brand by brand" for kids and young adults, but "to also think about us as the best way — across MTV Networks — to deliver adults 18-to-34 and 18-to-49 in a way that will save them money, and also give them basically equal or comparable reach [to broadcast] with far better demographics," Rosenthal said.

MTVN's effort to shift ad dollars from broadcast to cable, via buys across its various networks, mirrors similar stepped-up efforts this year by Turner Broadcasting System Inc. and Discovery Networks U.S.

New landscape

Those cable programmers are also pursuing a bigger share of broadcast ad money.

With cable now claiming more than half of all TV viewership, advertisers should think long and hard about moving money to cable, according to Rosenthal. It's a battle that cable has waged — and lost — for years.

But Rosenthal maintains that the situation has now reached a "tipping point," and ad dollars should start shifting to cable and MTVN, especially from Fox and The WB.

Cable's prices are averaging half of what broadcast charges, so with earnings under pressure and marketing money tight, it's the better buy for advertisers, according to Rosenthal.

10% demo

At its presentation, in which it touted its brand strength, MTVN boasted that it delivers almost 10% of all of the 18-to-34-year-old viewers of ad-supported TV, including broadcast.

Shari Anne Brill, vice president and director of programming services for Carat USA Inc., had a mixed reaction to MTVN's upfront message.

"They're owned by Viacom, which owns CBS and UPN," she said. "But they were selling against [broadcast] network pretty heavily."

As for MTVN touting reach, Brill said, "Here you're telling us each network is uniquely different, and uniquely positioned, but if you want to reach your target, you need everybody."

MTVN pulled out all the stops with its presentation, which included performances by Elton John and Kid Rock — who both got standing ovations — as well as "The Folksmen," Christopher Guest's parody folk group from the theatrical A Mighty Wind, which did a folk version of the Rolling Stones'Start Me Up. There were also appearances by a long list of celebrities associated with the MTVN services, including Ozzy and Kelly Osbourne, Pam Anderson, Farrah Fawcett [spacey, and flubbing her lines], P Diddy,
Jewel, Kirstie Alley, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, John Leguizamo, Ashton Kutcher, Martina McBride, Jason Sehorn, Sherman Helmsley and Phylicia Rashad.
"It was a great way to announce themselves as a large and impactful entity," said Kris Magel, senior vice president and group director of national broadcast at Optimedia. "They do have a wide array of networks that are delivering unique product."

Late night kings

At the presentation, MTVN officials maintained that their collective cable-network group is a meaningful player when compared directly to broadcasters in such measures as reach, share and quality of audience in the 18-to-34 and 18-to-49 demographic groups.

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