PBM Strategic Insights

What retail can learn from MTV's latest reinvention

August 28, 2017

MTV logoMusic video pioneer, MTV, has undergone numerous rebirths over its 36-year history and currently finds itself in the midst of another.

Launched in 1981 with the music video “Video Killed the Radio Star,” the channel redefined musical entertainment for an entire generation. As the music video field flooded with imitators, the station switched gears, positioning itself at the forefront of the reality TV era with its then breakthrough series The Real World. For the next 20 years MTV rode the “unscripted” TV wave with reality shows like The Osbournes, Laguna Beach and Jersey Shore.

Recently though, during a time when Millennials and Generation Z consume their music through YouTube, get their news from Facebook and binge watch their television shows through Netflix, MTV found itself standing at yet another crossroads. News outlets began to question whether MTV was an outdated concept destined for death by digital competition.

Sound familiar?

Instead of rolling over, MTV took action. Its parent company, Viacom, created an entire research campaign dedicated to learning as much as possible about its target audience. Utilizing a subset of market research known as “coolhunting,” researchers attempted to pinpoint emerging and declining trends in youth culture. What they found is that Facebook is a “must-have” for their audience and Snapchat is the fastest-growing social media network.

"What they found is that Facebook

is a “must-have” for their audience

and Snapchat is the fastest-growing

social media network."

Viacom also determined that young adults are living both online and offline at the same time, or as they define it – inline. They’re also consuming music on mobile phones instead of television and prefer the convenience and flexibility of TV Everywhere apps to traditional TV.

Taking this into account, MTV has concentrated its efforts digitally, remaining among the top 10 branded Facebook pages for the past seven years. The network launched its MTV App in 2013, allowing users to view content on their tablet, smartphone, smart TV, computer or other streaming device.

This year, Viacom announced a plan to restructure MTV News towards more video, short-form and multi-platform content rather than traditional long-form journalism. And instead of competing directly with free video sites, the network began incorporating popular vloggers into their own content, including placing YouTuber Tyler Oakley in several episodes of their original show Catfish.

They’ve also revived old favorites with a newer spin, streaming a revival of MTV Cribs on MTV’s Snapchat account and bringing the competition show Fear Factor over to the network with a fresh, new host in Ludacris.

The repositioned Fear Factor saw a 164% improvement in ratings for viewers ages 18 to 34 and delivered MTV’s best Tuesday in a year and a half.

These research-driven decisions are paying off for MTV, whose overall June year-over-year Nielsen ratings were up 3% among Millennials, a first since 2011. The network also had four of the top 30 cable series in the third quarter, including the rebooted Fear Factor.

Far from being dead, MTV has managed to revive itself with its research into changing consumer lifestyles, which has re-energized its business and introduced it to an entirely new generation.

And that’s a lesson we can all learn from.

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