MTV's many faces

HOLLYWOOD — Think you know what MTV looks like? Think again. When people all over the world say, “I want my MTV” — whatever the language — it turns out they mean different things.

In the U.K., they may be talking about “Videoclash,” where viewers vote (via Internet and cell phone text messaging) on their favorite vids. In Italy, it might be “MTV Kitchen,” where celebrities cook between videos. And in Russia, it’s probably “Cheerful Morning,” the most popular show on Moscow television.

MTV started in America, but globally it has evolved into many different styles and formats.

“We are the antithesis of a product that is homogeneous,” says Bill Roedy, MTV’s international prexy. “I know of no other product that changes so remarkably depending on where you are in the world.”

Regionalizing content was always the plan for MTV Europe, but starting around 1994, localization by territory became the focus.

“We saw a lot more opportunity to increase revenue on the local level,” explains Roedy. “There was also, more than ever, this cry for local identity and we really wanted to tap into that. Ultimately that’s our key success factor, the connection to our audience.”

That was especially visible last month in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the U.S., when MTV personalities in every country handled it in their own way, and in some cases organized relief efforts, “not from any directive from management,” Roedy says. “It’s just what the (local) programming people decided to do.”

Tremendous exposure

MTV Networks Europe encompasses 17 different MTV and VH1 services, available on cable, satellite and terrestrial TV, and reaching an estimated 100 million households in 43 territories. In each, the music playlist is decided locally; interstitial programming and packaging are also homegrown.

Unlike American MTV, which long ago shifted away from all-video programming, many European MTV channels remain music-heavy. In some territories, however, variations on American hits have proved highly popular.

German MTV has a local version of “Celebrity Deathmatch,” for example, and “Jackass” plays well for MTV Espana (although, Roedy points out, some of the more controversial MTV shows aren’t offered in some territories. “Beavis & Butt-head,” for example, wasn’t deemed appropriate for parts of Asia).

MTV Europe clearly has the jump on America in terms of technology-driven entertainment.

“We have taken on, extremely enthusiastically, a multiplatform approach to all our channels,” Roedy says.

Some examples:

  • MTV Nordic has “MTV Live,” designed specifically for PC broadband.

    “It’s totally interactive,” Roedy explains. “You can pick your music, your VJs, your VJ sets; you’re constantly communicating. You can only get the channel through a computer.”

  • Digital TV has enabled MTV to offer genre-specific channels. In the U.K. alone, there are seven including Dance, Hits, Base (R&B and hip-hop) and VH1 Classics.

  • “Top Selection,” seen in the U.K., France, Netherlands and Scandinavia, is shot entirely with PC Web cameras and features graphic backgrounds designed by viewers and emailed to the channel.

“Grassroots globalism” is how Roedy describes the programming diversity, noting, “We’re different all around the world, and we’ve only scratched the surface.”

And while MTV Intl. now claims access to 366 million homes worldwide, he adds: “Our growth is still very much ahead of us.”

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