Website quietly growing an audience

MTV Networks is hatching a new brand to attract movie fans and the studios that want to reach them.

NextMovie has been operational as a website for seven months; during that time, and with virtually no promotion, it has managed to reach 500,000 unique visitors per month.

That kind of organic growth is what parent company Viacom wanted to see before taking NextMovie to the next level. The brand is beginning to get exposure across MTVN’s portfolio of channels and websites as NextMovie grows into a cross-platform brand active across tablets, gaming consoles and connected TVs.

Van Toffler, president of MTVN Music and Logo Group, sees NextMovie as a natural extension of the film-themed programming that his networks have always undertaken sporadically, like the upcoming MTV Movie Awards.

“We’ve always gone from project to project but without a daily presence on what’s going on in movies,” he said. “There’s an opening in the marketplace for a fun, irreverent take on movies.”

Irreverence comes in the form of viral-friendly blog posts like “Summer’s 10 Biggest Movies in Lego Form” and shortform videos series like “Rappers Reviewing Movies,” which last featured MC Hammer assessing “Thor.” NextMovie doesn’t have actual reviews because MTVN isn’t looking to position it as a journalistic enterprise.

A decade ago, NextMovie might have been yet another MTVN digital cable channel. But at a time when the average U.S. home has a high-speed broadband connection and a growing number of video-playing devices, the cable company that is home to a range of assets including Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and Spike TV is trying a different, not to mention cheaper, route to brand creation.

MTVN has started to seed promotional exposure for NextMovie across its websites and TV programs like MTV afternoon show “The Seven,” where a correspondent from the site makes regular appearances to discuss movies. NextMovie’s shortform series are also being syndicated outside MTVN on video hubs like DailyMotion and Metacafe.

There’s plans afoot to get the brand its own show on MTV2, but the company is moving slowly. NextMovie won’t be integrated into the MTV Movie Awards, but the site was able to leverage its corporate parentage for a spot on its red carpet.

In addition to avoiding the linear-channel model, NextMovie is looking to evolve with social media at the heart of its content mix. Future iterations of the site will curate the conversation going on around the latest films.

MTVN sees NextMovie fitting in the middle ground between niche blogs and the Web giants already super-serving movie fans like Yahoo Movies and IMDb.

While NextMovie is seemingly duplicative of another MTVN-owned digital property, MTV Movies Blog, the company sees the new brand appealing to a “broader psychographic,” according to Dermot McCormack, exec VP of digital media at MTV Music Group.

“We’re building an audience that may not be coming to MTV sites already because maybe they don’t like ‘Jersey Shore,’ but they like ‘Harry Potter,'” he said.

McCormack oversees NextMovie with Scott Robson, VP of NextMovie.com, who has experience in this category, having led Moviefone for AOL.

MTVN isn’t disclosing how much has been invested in NextMovie, but it operates out of New York and Los Angeles on a lean staff of nine full-time employees and freelance help.

NextMovie provides MTVN with the ability to give advertisers another place to market to movie fans and with opportunities for customizable sponsorship integrations. MTVN wants its cut of a growing tide of ad dollars studios are spending online; research firm eMarketer projected that by 2013 that total could reach $2.7 billion, or 14% of the studios’ total marketing spend.

Viacom isn’t the only conglom eyeing the digital space as a home for movie content. Earlier this month, Warner Bros. acquired Flixster, which also owns Rotten Tomatoes.

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