Dall'Orto hones the brand in more than 160 countries
MTV’s “Jersey Shore” housemates are about to spend their first summer break abroad, swapping their U.S. seaside digs for a holiday in Italy.And no one is more curious to see what happens when season four of the cabler’s top-rated reality show about eight hard-drinking, hard-playing Italian Americans starts filming in May than Antonio Campo Dall’Orto, executive VP of MTV Networks Intl. “They will be going to the country of their grandfathers with expectations of Italy that will probably clash with Italian reality,” he says. Dall’Orto, a native Italian based in Milan, launched MTV Italy in 1997 and, since 2008, has been in charge of redefining the MTV brand in more than 160 countries outside the U.S. That makes him the highest placed European exec in MTV’s operations. His job is to take product from the U.S. that can work worldwide and then add locally made content to the programming mix for MTV stations in each country. And “Jersey Shore” frequently doesn’t make the cut. Dall’Orto says the show doesn’t work well outside the U.S. because, in his words “it’s seen more as an observational documentary on a very specific American community.” Dall’Orto says that, from his vantage point, the key change under way these days is the global convergence in the worldview of the Millennial Generation, a term used by demographers to describe those born between 1980 and 2000. In 2008, Bob Bakish, now CEO of international media networks at Viacom, upped Dall’Orto and gave him orders to change the network’s focus. The lure of musicvideos was waning and reality, comedy and scripted content were becoming the new building blocks of MTV’s programming. “There is a core component that defines you, around which you place product that is culture-specific,” says Dall’Orto. “We gambled on connecting with the Millennials at an international level at a time when it was difficult to prove that they had things in common all over the world. As far as adolescents go, finding a universal type of narrative was becoming a greater necessity.” The two shows that were instrumental in proving this global convergence were “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom” because, he says, no matter where you live, “they could be you.” When Dall’Orto launched MTV Italy 14 years ago, everything was centered on localizing channels as much as possible, albeit in differing degrees. Since then, he says, “the Internet has been a multiplier for the visibility of American entertainment content,” strongly contributing to the convergence. Accordingly, Dall’Orto sees the Jasmine Revolution currently rocking the Arab world as a “historic and positively effervescent moment” caused by a combination of imagination and the Internet. “The uprisings have the face of the Millennial kids and the ambitions of a generation that wants more self-expression,” he says. And MTV, which goes out in the Middle East via MTV Arabia, is busy developing new shows to give them a voice, he says. One region not in tune with the U.S. when it comes to MTV’s reality and scripted fare is Asia, where the power of musicvideos is still so strong that auds don’t need that much other content. “In Asia, our programming is prevalently music; while in the rest of the world, music amounts to about one-fourth of total programming,” he says. But music remains central to the MTV brand, even in hugely homogenized Western Europe. Just consider the amount of energy that goes into the MTV Europe Awards, this year skedded for November in Belfast, which wants to be known for something other than conflict, Dall’Orto says. “We work on that show for a year,” he notes.