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MTV Networks’ New Drive: Hybrid Broadband Nets for the Masses

12/30/2005 7:00 PM Eastern

Gone are the days when programmers think only about the TV screen. ESPN, MTV: Music Television and Scripps Networks have been leading the charge among the growing list of networks supplying content to new platforms — ranging from Web sites to cell phones.

As the following Q&As make clear, these programmers are slicing and dicing traditional linear content — including sports, music and how-to programming — for new platforms. And they’re combining it with their own unique analysis and branding. The goal: to reach their audiences on any device the consumer chooses.

That means ESPN branded cell phones, ring tones from MTV and Food Network recipes available on wireless platforms, as well as live sporting events, concert footage and the ability to design a kitchen on broadband Internet sites. And the march to new platforms will pad the bottom line with new revenue from advertising and from consumers.

It all points to the brave new multiplatform world facing programmers today.

MTV Networks chief digital officer Jason Hirschhorn is charged with making sure all the tunes from the group’s various cable networks are heard through existing and emerging digital platforms. Hirschhorn is helping facilitate content through new media distribution pipelines — from video broadband to personal media players. Also in his sights, branded content from VH1, CMT: Country Music Television, Comedy Central, MTV: Music Television and Nickelodeon. Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead recently talked with Hirschhorn about his agenda. An edited transcript follows:

MCN: MTV has made the most noise this year in the video-broadband arena, with MTV Overdrive and VH1’s VSpot. What video services are you currently offering via the Internet?

Jason Hirschhorn: This year, we launched five hybrid broadband networks that allow consumers to have either a lean-back or lean-forward interactive video entertainment experience for MTV [Overdrive], mtvU [Über], VH1 [VSpot], Comedy Central [Motherload] and MTV Latin America [Revolución].

We have also launched a version of MTV Overdrive that is specifically customized for a 10-foot viewing experience through Media Center Edition PCs. This allows consumers to enjoy our broadband content in their living rooms, with all navigation possible through remote control. Users can also stream this version of MTV Overdrive to their Xbox. We expect to announce several additional 10-foot user-interface versions of our other broadband networks very soon.

We also expect to introduce numerous additional broadband networks in 2006. These broadband networks are filled with a broad range of content, extending the on-air experience and introducing new original short-form programming that is specifically made-for-digital.

We also offer a full library of streaming music videos through our music broadband networks.

MCN: How successful have the services been in attracting users?

JH: We are already seeing audiences in the millions of monthly unique [users] across our broadband networks. We are seeing very steady growth in usage of MTV Overdrive’s 10-foot user interface. Forrester [Research] and other analysts have considered MTV Overdrive as best-in-class examples of broadband programming services.

MCN: Are you charging a fee for the services?

JH: Our broadband networks are ad-supported with advertisers eager to address consumers with rich media video units. Users cannot skip ads within the broadband experience.

MCN: What content does MTV currently offer to cell phone users?

JH: We have mobile video channels from VH1, CMT, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon on Verizon Wireless, Sprint and Amp’d Mobile. By the end of the year, we will have launched more mobile video channels in the U.S. than any other media company.

All of our brands offer a full suite of wireless content including: ringtones, ringbacks, graphics games, IVR [interactive voice response] content, text message alerts, and voting and TV-interactivity applications.

MCN: What’s the consumer response been so far?

JH: We often sell hundreds of thousands of individual pieces of content, such as ring tones and graphics around specific MTVN events or shows that we complement with wireless content. Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob Squarepants wireless screensavers were the first to be awarded gold status by Sprint, with more than 500,000 purchases.

MCN: What economic models are emerging for you on these platforms?

JH: Most of our wireless content is purchased on an a la carte basis by consumers through carriers. Some of our content, such as mobile video, is provided on a subscription basis to consumers through carriers.

MCN: How are you handling the rights issues for content for these new platforms?

JH: We control many of the rights in connection with our own proprietary mobile content. In the case of content owned by labels or other rights holders, we either work through third-party aggregators or enter into direct licenses.

MCN: How about portable devices? What is MTV’s strategy toward offering content on Apple Computer Inc.’s iPod or portable media centers?

JH: Since first quarter of 2005, we have offered a broad range of promotional video content from MTV, VH1, and Comedy Central for download to devices supporting Windows Media, such as portable media centers. Thus far we’ve had a positive response.

MCN: What economic models are emerging for you on these platforms?

JH: To date, our downloadable content has been promotional, with [ad-supported] Web pages featuring such offerings. We are exploring transactional a la carte and subscription models, as well as ad-supported models.

MTVN’s Multiplatform Picture
Broadband:
MTV Overdrive
mtvU Über
VH1 VSpot
Comedy Central Motherload
MTV Latin America Revolución
Nickelodeon turboNick
Recently acquired Internet sites:
IFILM.com — short-form Hollywood and amateur video.
GoCityKids.com — parental information site.
NeoPets.com — virtual pets.
Mobile:
Video: VH1, CMT, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon mobile channels through Verizon Wireless, Sprint and Amp’d Mobile.
Other applications: MTV, MTV2, mtvU, CMT, Nickelodeon, Spike, VH1, CMT and Comedy Central offer a full suite of wireless content including ringtones, ringbacks, graphics games, interactive voice response content, text message alerts, and voting and TV-interactivity applications
Portable Devices:
Content from MTV, VH1, and Comedy Central available for download to devices supporting Windows Media.
Nickelodeon content for fee-based downloading to Hasbro-created Vugo portable players.
Other:
Urge subscription downloading music service based through soon-to-be-released Windows Media Player.

September