MTV Networks may not have been one of the early basic-cable programmers to enter the VOD space, but since launching on Comcast Cable Communications in April, the company has more than made up for lost time with several pioneering VOD efforts.
Among the 30-plus hours a month of MTV Networks on-demand programming are current episodes of Real World, now filming in Philadelphia. With linear episodes hitting the VOD platform 10 to 14 days after their premiere, Real World is one the first hit cable shows to get a quick turnaround on VOD.
Last week, the Noggin made-for-TV movie Franklin’s Magic Christmas Movie debuted on VOD, two full weeks before its linear debut, backed by a multi-layered marketing campaign to create awareness of the program — another VOD first.
And MTV also is seeing some interesting viewer patterns, including a spike in Noggin VOD usage once that network signs off at 6 p.m. each day. VOD, in effect, extends Noggin’s “daypart” from 12 to 24 hours.
“We’ve been very pleased with the performance,” said Susan Keith, MTV Networks vice president for broadband development and sales strategy, emphasizing the learning experience MTV and Comcast are going through for all of MTV’s VOD product.
The programmer signed a deal to bring its content to Comcast’s VOD platform last December. The first shows began hitting servers in April. But VOD has been something Keith and company have been working on for several years. In many ways, VOD was a natural for MTV, because of its audience and the many programs under its roof.
“At MTV Networks, it’s always been about the audience connection and understanding that consumer,” Keith said. “Young people are platform agnostic, whether it’s linear or wireless, online or on demand.”
The key for MTV was looking at consumer behavior and expectations, and creating and packaging content for a new platform that also would work for operators and advertisers.
COMCAST ONLY FOR NOW
MTV Networks supplies about 30 hours of content to Comcast from MTV, Nickelodeon, Noggin, N and Comedy Central. Although the company is in other discussions with other cable operators, Comcast is the only MSO where the programmer has rolled out VOD, save for a few legacy deals for Comedy Central.
Even after the first eight months, Keith said, the programming model is constantly evolving. “We’re working very, very closely with Comcast to understand what’s working and what’s getting the most traction.”
In addition to Real World, the company’s on-demand offerings include MTV Bytes, short-form behind-the-scenes program segments from popular MTV series.
In November, MTV debuted This Week in MTV News History, providing classic clips from each week of the news briefs, which debuted on the channel in 1987. It’s exclusive to VOD.
MTV also provides specials; a segment entitled Brewing in the Stew, which includes clips from the three series Punk’d, Viva La Bam and Pimp My Ride; and two hours of music videos from MTV Live and MTV 2.
Comedy Central is providing Comedy Central Quickees, five- to seven-minute program segments culled from the network’s library. During the presidential campaign, the network produced an Indecision 2004 programming block, made up of political humor excerpted from such shows as South Park, The Daily Show With John Stewart, Chappelle’s Show and Crank Yankers.
South Park highlight clips and special themed blocks from Comedy Central comedians also appear on the VOD platform.
The Nickelodeon lineup includes Dora the Explorer, Blue’s Clues, SpongeBob SquarePants, Jimmy Neutron and Drake & Josh. Keith said the ratings success Nickelodeon has on the linear channel carries over to the VOD platform. “The experience is the same,” she said. “The strong brands really percolate.”
HOLIDAY THEME BLOCKS
Nickelodeon also programs holiday theme blocks, with special programming for Mother’s Day, Halloween and Christmas.
“With VOD, there is a very high repeat usage factor,” she said. “Kids love to watch the same episodes, and it’s a great platform to highlight pro-social campaigns.”
MTV executives have been pleasantly surprised at the usage of Noggin programming after 6 p.m. on the VOD platform. In the linear world, Noggin, aimed at the under nine-year-old set, shares a channel with N, geared for 9-14 year olds. Noggin is programmed from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., while N has the other 12 hours. Keith said MTV has seen a spike in Noggin VOD usage at 6:00 p.m., as families with young children search for something to watch and find it on VOD.
The N premieres a new episode of a series on Friday, runs it over the weekend, then sends it to the VOD platform for exclusive airing on Monday.
Both MTV and Comcast kicked up the exclusivity a notch with the VOD premier of the made-for-TV movie Franklin’s Magic Christmas Movie two weeks prior to its Dec. 13 on-air debut.
“It was a really great way to partner with Comcast and provide a full comprehensive marketing slate,” Keith said. The program was backed by cross-channel spots, online VOD segments on Comcast’s Web site and tune-in ads for both the VOD and linear offerings. There was also a local market tour for the movie in nine cities.
Both this year and next, VOD will be all about learning, Keith said. A key ingredient for VOD’s success, she said, is educating consumers on what’s available and how to find it. “The key franchises, that’s what they want more of,” she said. “Contexting and packaging and making content relevant to a consumer is key.”
“The navigation guide and user interface are something that distributors and programmers need to work together on, to create an easy-to-access, customer-friendly format,” she continued. “People want to navigate through the brands they recognize and love.”
MTV is fortunate in that it has, and can create, programming in different lengths. The short-form comedy bits and music videos work well in VOD, Keith said. But full-length episodes of shows like Dora also work with children. The perfect program length, she said, “depends on the brand and the content.”
At the moment, no advertising exists in MTV’s VOD content. But MTV’s ad sales department is talking to advertisers about experimental ad forms. The industry needs to continue working on getting adequate usage metrics and creating dynamic ad-insertion equipment to move the category forward, Keith said.
“We’re in the early learning with VOD,” Keith said. But so far, MTV likes what it sees.