Comedy net brays brand

Exex pushing web to more cutting-edge stance digitally

NEW YORK — Newly installed MTV Networks chair-CEO Judy McGrath and MTV Networks group prexy Van Toffler said Monday their Viacom unit is exploring ways to capitalize on its successful Comedy Central property by exporting the brand overseas and even launching a sister standup channel.

The duo discussed the concepts as they laid out upcoming strategies for MTV Networks at Credit Suisse First Boston’s Media and Telecom Week conference, which kicked off at Gotham’s Plaza Hotel on Monday.

McGrath and Toffler are considering a strong commitment to new-media platforms for their youth-skewing channels Nickelodeon, MTV and MTV2 for a tech-savvy, early adopter audience.

Buoyed by current sensations “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” and comic Dave Chappelle’s eponymous “Chappelle’s Show,” McGrath said her team is pushing Comedy Central toward a more cutting-edge stance digitally.

“Comedy Central doesn’t really have a digital platform associated with it,” the exec said during a half-hour-plus presentation. “Their Web site is just beginning.” A spinoff channel and the rebranding of various Paramount comedy nets abroad may be on the horizon for the network, she added.

“Certainly maybe there’s a standup channel in the future. I think the brand has grown, and has such value — largely through Jon Stewart, Dave Chappelle and some of the other obvious hits. There’s a lot of interest in seeing Comedy Central travel, even internationally. There are some Paramount comedy networks overseas, and we are thinking about rebranding them as Comedy Central.”

Overseas appeal

Toffler said MTV and MTV2 is looking overseas to services that will appeal Stateside. “We’re thinking of bringing some of our MTV international services here to serve some of the diverse populations that exist in pockets of the U.S. as well as broadband networks,” he said.

Toffler pointed out that the young fans of Nick, MTV and MTV2 are adept at using new technology, from VOD to downloading ringtones and online gaming.

“What you see with our audience is that they grew up in this multichannel world,” he added. “So they will turn to channel 79 first and then go to the networks last.”

He said MTV is looking overseas for some of its inspiration as technology here catches up with European standards.

Online pull

“There’s a great online gaming technology that’s emerging now,” he said. “If you look at some of these technologies around the world, young people are playing games on their television set on a split-screen while they watch television. If we can bring some of that technology here, we have a lot of fun with that. The multiplayer online gaming technology is a big area for us as well.”

McGrath said she will target dollars toward such developments.

“We have many, many initiatives across broadband, VOD and wireless, which is really where we plan to spend a lot of attention and energy and sort of refocus a lot of our spend for the coming years.”

The duo also addressed MTV’s role in Tom Freston’s rejiggering of Paramount’s feature product as well.

“The opportunity for cross-promotion and cross-collaboration is great,” said McGrath, who mentioned she will be meeting with Freston at week’s end to fine tune her unit’s long-range plans. “Whether Tom takes the label route and we really become one of the labels or we are part of the Paramount universe, I think it’s great for our brands.”

Closer to Par

Toffler expects the relationship between MTV and Par to become closer.

“We’ve worked with (Paramount) eight or nine years and put out about 20 movies,” he said. “The relationship has been great, sometimes trying with the different cultures coupling and talking about different projects, but ultimately we’ve been able to do relatively low cost movies through Paramount. We’ve got windows with the networks on those different movies. Hopefully with Tom now involved, it’ll only get better.”

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