Candidates to answer real-time questions

MTV is partnering with MySpace.com to produce the next generation of its “Choose or Lose” political franchise, adding a series of TV events to an already-packed fall political schedule.

So far 12 presidential aspirants have signed up to participate in the dialogues — including John McCain, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney — a twist on the single-candidate format made famous in 1992 by Tabitha Soren and the “boxers or briefs?” query to then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton.

This time candidates will take real-time questions from the MySpace nation as well as from the studio audience. Viewers will be able to submit questions via cell phones, instant message and MySpace.com, as well as give real-time ratings to candidates’ responses.

“This is a significant departure from the canned debates you’ve seen thus far,” MTV veep Ian Rowe said.

While the CNN-YouTube debates saw CNN producers cull the questions submitted online, MySpace TV general manager Jeff Berman noted that the questions for the “Choose or Lose” events would come via MySpace unfiltered.

“You’re not relying on some middle-aged producer from a news organization to decide what the follow-up question is,” Berman said.

The single-candidate events are designed to help young viewers engage with the candidates before the primary elections. No specific dates have been set, but they will all be scheduled between the end of September and December of this year.

Voters in Iowa and New Hampshire go to the polls in January; by Feb. 5, when as many as 22 primaries are scheduled, the nominees for both parties could already be decided.

The MTV-MySpace events will be held in the mornings and broadcast live on the Web in real time; MTV and MTVU will run the events later the same day in primetime.

Deal marks the next iteration for MTV’s once-dominant “Choose or Lose” franchise. While the music cabler broke new ground in engaging youth in the political process in the ’90s, others have rushed aggressively into the space, including corporate sib Comedy Central with its “Daily Show” and “Colbert Report,” which routinely land presidential aspirants as guests.

Political wags were wondering what MTV would do this time around, especially after CNN made a strong play for the youth demos with its YouTube debates.

And while the candidates — especially the Democrats — have sought to limit the myriad forums and debates that take them off the campaign trail, MTV still carries big political clout and is considered important for inspiring young voter turnout.

Rowe called the MySpace partnership “critical to our efforts” during the 2008 election cycle, which will include 51 youth correspondents covering the campaigns around the country.

MTV is developing a social networking website that focuses on youth activism.

For MySpace, the partnership is the latest effort to broaden its footprint in politics. The News Corp.-owned site launched its MySpace Impact Channel, which hosts all the official pages of the major party candidates, and will introduce political fund-raising tools this fall.

Berman said Obama is leading all candidates with close to 200,000 “friends,” a figure Berman said puts him in a league with the site’s most popular bands and comedians.

It will be intriguing to see to what degree MySpace or Facebook friends or the number of YouTube video views translate into votes on Election Day.

MySpace is holding its own online presidential primary on Jan. 1 and 2.

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