Network talks 'Hills' at upfront presentation

MTV Networks is leaving no stone unturned in its efforts to embed advertising messages into its TV shows and digital content. That’s the message MTV Networks brass sent to advertisers at its upfront on Thursday, highlighting its efforts to allay advertiser fears that younger viewers are simply not watching enough television to absorb ad messages the old-fashioned way.

MTV brass tubthumped the numerous websites that it has built around its various programs, as well as more elaborate initiatives such as the interactive “Virtual Hills” offshoot of its soapy MTV skein “The Hills.”

Calling the MTV Networks “a creative engine,” Judy McGrath, chairman and CEO of MTVN, told the assembled ad execs that “there are literally no borders, no boundaries for creativity. We’re taking our content and our audience and moving with them freely across every screen.”

Marketing partnerships on multiple platforms was the rallying cry of the presentation. MTV is pushing deeper into developing ad formats and melding product logos and blurbs into the multiple MTV brands, including VH1, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, Spike TV, CMT, Logo, Nick at Nite, the N and TV Land.

MTV is beefing up its Digital Fusion unit to get advertisers’ marketing messages into MTV’s websites, online games and widgets. McGrath refers to many of these initiatives “reinventing commercial time as content time.”

Hank Close, president of U.S. ad sales for MTV Networks, said the company has created a partnership with the research firm Marketing Evolution, which will “allow marketers, for the first time, to see exactly how our brands can deliver on attributes ranging from awareness to word-of-mouth.”

The Madison Avenue-friendly initiatives highlighted the upfront presentation Thursday evening at the Nokia Theater in Times Square. But the show was high on star power with appearances by Justin Timberlake, Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Rock, Ashanti, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Sarah Silverman, John Legend and Lauren Conrad of “The Hills.”

Meanwhile, VH1 announced Thursday that it’s developing a skein with Scott Baio that would put eight former male teen idols of the 80s and 90s together in a house. Untitled skein, set to air in winter 2009, would be exec produced by Baio, as well as fellow child star Jason Hervey, Eric Bischoff, Michael Swerdlick, JD Roth and Todd Nelson. Baio recently starred in VH1’s “Scott Baio is 45 and Single,” and its sequel, “Scott Baio is 46 and Pregnant.”

(Michael Schneider contributed to this report.)

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