Controversy might actually stimulate audience totals

As advertisers continue to bail out of MTV’s “Skins,” the teen-friendly network will soon find out whether the bad press will bring more viewers to the show.

Last week’s premiere of the show drew a healthy 3.3 million viewers. While a 15%-20% dropoff would be normal for the following week, “Skins” may well turn in number close to those of its initial outing when the second episode airs. (The first run was slated for Monday evening, with repeats throughout the week.)

The situation is reminiscent of that of “Jersey Shore,” the reality megahit that drew a network record 8.9 million viewers for MTV on Thursday. When that series first launched in December 2009, Domino’s Pizza and American Family Insurance pulled their ads in response to what some deemed controversial content.

“Jersey Shore” became a pop culture phenomenon, however, and other companies quickly wanted to fill those vacant ad slots and get onboard with all things Snooki and the Situation. “Jersey Shore,” now in its third season, remains a massive hit, and the controversy has pretty much vanished.

“The ads pulling out (on ‘Skins’) is not the end of the world for them,” said one source. “They’ll place them in other shows. A lot of people (inside and outside the net) are saying this is no big deal.”

MTV is doing well with “Teen Mom” and “16 and Pregnant,” and while those shows also address teen sexuality, they haven’t received the same criticism as “Skins.” Advertisers reticent of being associated with “Skins” and its scantily clad minors may be more comfortable with slots on those skeins.

On Monday, Subway and Schick — in addition to the previously announced H&R Block, Taco Bell, Wrigley and General Motors — decided to pull advertising on “Skins,” a U.K. import that will soon start its fifth season overseas. Series depicts substance abuse, physical altercations and the highly sexual activity of teens trying to find their way in the world.

Said “Skins” creator Brian Elsley in response to the controversy: “In the U.K., viewers and commentators very quickly realized that although there are some sensational aspects to the show, ‘Skins’ is actually a very serious attempt to get to the roots of young people’s lives. It deals with relationships, parents, death, illness, mental health issues, the consequences of drug use and sexual activity. It is just that these are characterized from the point of view of the many young people who write the show and has a very straightforward approach to their experiences. It tries to tell the truth. Sometimes that truth can be a little painful to adults and parents.”

The watchdog org Parents Television Council said that because the show features sexual acts by actors younger than 18, the show is a form of child pornography, and it has encouraged sponsors to back away.

Dan Isett, the PTC’s director of public policy, told Variety he’s aware that additional publicity for “Skins” may ultimately help the show grow an audience that otherwise wouldn’t have tuned in. “My personal take is that you can’t combat something like this by not talking about it,” Isett said.

Also irking Isett and the PTC is MTV’s news release that touted the ratings for the first episode. The net highlighted the 12-34 demo.

Gary Carr, senior VP and exec director of national broadcast at ad agency TargetCast, said, “From an ad perspective, there are advertisers who don’t care where they run, and others who are very careful. They don’t want to be associated with things that cross the line.”

Advertisers catering specifically to a teen demo may not be as afraid as others to get onboard a show such as “Skins.”

“Skins” is the first of a handful of skeins in the pipeline at MTV as programming topper David Janollari seeks a better balance of reality vs. scripted content. Other upcoming scripted series include a reboot of cult movie “Teen Wolf” and “I Just Want My Pants Back,” based on the David Rosen tome.

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