Q&A with MTV director of television UK and Ireland

Kerry Taylor, director of television, senior vice president content and creative, MTV UK & Ireland explains how the brand extends its reach beyond music and the TV screen

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Marketing Week (MW): MTV started as a music video channel but now runs all kinds of entertainment shows. What is the brand about now?

Kerry Taylor (KT): I think there are definitely some people who hark back to the fact that MTV was originally Music Television and that we were the original home of the music video. But ultimately, MTV has always been about youth culture – even from its inception when it was playing a lot of music videos.

Youth culture will always have music at its heart and we have a whole host of music channels, but at the same time areas such as reality broadcasting are a part of what MTV is about. Our flagship channel MTV Music launched in February.

MW: MTV’s brand mission is ’celebrating young amazing lives’. How do you define that slogan?

KT: Earlier this year, we did an extensive piece of research looking at the lives of 12 to 24-year-olds around the world, including Australia, South Korea, the UK and Italy, from which we were able to distil some key themes about what they wanted from a brand. The core insight was that MTV should focus only on youth or the “millennial generation”. Our brand values are about being encouraging, pioneering, authentic, smart and fun.

Our viewers are leading convergent lives in that they are entirely multiplatform. It is all about immediacy – everything they want and do is in the ’super now’.

Their relationship with their families has evolved and they very much see their parents as their heroes and friends. They feel much closer to their families than previous generations.

Things like sexual promiscuity are really in the past; they are looking for deep and authentic relationships and true love. We say that love is the new virginity.

MW: MTV is originally an American brand. Does the UK brand positioning differ from that of the US?

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Geordie Shore

KT: The US is slightly separate but the international [non-US] work is inspired by the American brand. However, the international part of MTV has to work equally well in the UK and in more conservative places like the Middle East, so we have to have an offering that is slightly broader. The positioning in the UK is absolutely in line with MTV in Japan or Poland, for example.

We take a lot of content from MTV US as it resonates so well in the UK. So, for example, TV shows Jersey Shore, Awkward, 16 And Pregnant and I Used To Be Fat. We also commission our own content in the UK, for example Teen Dad was inspired by the Teen Mom franchise and reality show Geordie Shore was loosely based on the US show Jersey Shore.

Our brand strategy is really being brought to life by the content we are commissioning in the UK.

MW: There is so much competition for young viewers from channels such as E4, BBC3 and ITV2. How can MTV’s channels stand out?

KT: We are a much more complete brand. So while we are a TV broadcaster, we have a big online presence. Mobile and music are part of our strategy. We also have big awards ceremonies – the 2011 MTV European Music Awards (EMA) will feature Red Hot Chili Peppers and Lady Gaga. When you add everything together, it makes MTV far more than just a linear TV broadcaster.

We are fortunate that when we do something, people get really excited about it. For example, our international production team has commissioned a taster based in East London. The press has coined it The Only Way Is Dalston [after the hit TV show The Only Way Is Essex]. Even when we are just having conversations about a show, people get really excited about what MTV is doing. We have a heritage of doing something exciting.

MW: The 2011 MTV European Music Awards run in Belfast this week. How are they being marketed?

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Jersey Shore

KT: The key objective for us is that when people arrive in Belfast, they know that MTV is in town. Our big focus has been on a media takeover of the whole city, whether that be at the airport or walking down the street and having our branding everywhere. It is very much about the people in Belfast feeling part of the experience. We always want to make the EMA host city feel that we are shining a light on it as a great place for music. The show will be broadcast to an audience of 1.2 billion people in 159 countries.

Beyond that, our strategy is very much around social media. For example, the EMA host [US TV star] Selina Gomez has 7.8 million Twitter followers, while our creative team in Buenos Aires has made a promotional video with Selina, which is playing online.

There are four EMA pan-European sponsors – Dell, Hyundai, Replay and Swatch – and we support all sponsor activity locally.

I oversee content and creative from a UK perspective and then feed that into an international team.

MW: How are you dealing with new consumer behaviour such as ’dual screening’, where people are watching TV while on their laptop or smartphone?

KT: That is one of the bedrocks of decision-making for our commissioning strategy. We are thinking about content and ideas that will live in dual environments.

With Geordie Shore, the audience tweets about it and goes on Facebook to vote about things that are happening in the show. It is a fundamental shift in how our audience are viewing and it has to be central to what we create on air.

MW: What is the hardest thing about your job?

KT: The challenging thing is about deciding on a new show, what the theme or cast should be and then coming up with a new marketing idea or creative idea that will really deliver success for the channel and get people excited.

Those are the reasons you come to this job as they are the most exciting things, but they are also the scariest and hardest bits because you know they will determine the success of your brand or not.

I get involved in commissioning to a degree. We have a great team which looks after editorial, music and programming and they lead the development and production. For Geordie Shore and the like, I am quite deeply involved in casting and the storyline. This enables me to put my hand on my heart and say I ensured that I believed in what we were doing.

It is crucial to be involved in decisions that will really change the fortune of your brand. They are the areas that determine your success and failure, so you have to be accountable.

MTV – the real story

MTV was the original music channel, founded in New York in 1981. But with so many competitor music channels and videos shown online through YouTube, the brand has had to redefine itself in broader entertainment terms. It faces strong rivals in this area too, with both E4 and ITV2 appealing to a similar youth audience.

MTV has been reclassified this year by broadcaster Sky to reflect its entertainment positioning, moving up on the company’s electronic programme guide from 350 to 126, and now reaches 5.8 million 16- to 34-year-olds, up 47% year on year, according to Kerry Taylor, director of television, senior vice-president of content and creative, MTV Networks UK and Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.

MTV was fully bought by Viacom International Media Networks in 1986 and expanded into Europe in 1987. In the UK, it runs 11 music and entertainment channels and airs shows such as The Hills and Geordie Shore – a reality show based on the lives of 20-somethings in Newcastle, which averages 367,000 viewers aged 16 to 34, making it MTV UK’s most watched show to date.

MTV: real-time reader response

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@jamesama: What is MTV doing to embrace the mobile generation?

A key part of the mobile strategy is to ensure there is exclusive content on phones, which draws people back into our content or into subjects they are interested in. We look to create exclusive assets that can sit on there or it may be that there is content that sits online that people can access from their mobiles as well. The MTV news app gets about 5 million views a month in the UK. We also have the MTV Base chart app, Geordie Shore soundboard and Freshers – Hot or Not?

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@cj_brough: How does MTV stay relevant for anyone over the age of 17?

People are staying younger, even when they are [getting] older. All our research seems to suggest that. Increasingly, people will watch content with their parents and that is coming through in our research. People have a very different relationship with their families these days and see them very much as friends. I think MTV is very much a mindset. For some people, there is a nostalgic element in that it reminds them of what it was like to be young or they get to live vicariously as their younger self watching MTV.

A lot of our content appeals to an older audience anyway, because if you are creating great content then you are always going to bring in a broader audience. The average viewer age of [US reality show] The Hills was 29, which always surprised us. Similarly, Geordie Shore has a very balanced mix of male and female viewers and interestingly, it also has a very ABC1 profile.

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