A Reshuffled MTV Networks Takes New Digital Approach

After consolidating its digital music sales teams late last year, MTV’s digital ad sales head has begun implementing plans to help the media firm better serve brand advertisers. The goals are not dissimilar to those of other digital media companies hoping to coax more money from brands: educate agencies about sponsorship and custom integration opportunities on MTV Networks sites like TeenNick and Spike.com, develop more branded online-only content, and enhance targeting capabilities across its ad network.

Yet, also like other digital media firms, MTVN is navigating some choppy economic waters. The company also appears to struggle with filling premium ad space on all of its sites with premium advertisers at premium prices. Atom.com features an expandable Skittles video ad and an interactive Cheetos expandable unit, and Comedy Central’s homepage presents visitors with an expandable ad for the KIA Motors Forte model – all more premium buys. Meanwhile, recent visits to MTV’s homepage expose low-value standard display units from ad network standbys like Netflix.

“The marketplace is pretty strong; we see a lot of momentum on the back half of Q1,” said Kevin Arrix, MTV’s newly-promoted EVP digital advertising, adding that the company makes a point of reserving premium space for ads sold direct to brand advertisers.

The MTVN sales team includes staff dedicated to “Kids and Family,” “Music,” and “Entertainment,” in addition to people focused on top advertiser partners. “Our approach has been brand specific and horizontal,” said Arrix. In the past, execs sold sites such as CMT.com, MTV, and VH1 separately. The company has also realigned its operations, marketing and strategy teams, along with its integrated marketing division, Digital Fusion.

“We’re showing the marketplace and agencies what we are capable of providing,” said Heather Hopkins, SVP and general manager of MTVN’s Tribes ad network, which features MTV properties and related vertical site content. Her role has expanded recently to encompass product marketing and sales strategy in addition to running the vertical ad net.

One message MTVN is trying to get across to advertisers, according to Hopkins: “We’re now a lot more multidimensional in terms of solutions than we ever have been.” The company points to recent exclusive online content like MTV’s “Five Dollar Cover,” a 12-part series on the Memphis music scene sponsored by AT&T. A second season set in Seattle is planned.

“We’re really looking to accelerate our online originals,” said Arrix.

A custom ad campaign developed for McDonald’s featured Online Publishers Association “push down” units seen on MTV.com, VH1.com, and ComedyCentral; other McDonald’s ads ran in targeted placements throughout the Tribes network. The ads entice users to “get your morning fix” of comedy, music, and pop culture “bites,” and include excerpts from and links to stories on MTV’s Hollywood Crush site, the MTV Buzzworthy music blog, and others. The campaign launched in Q4 2009, and has run through this quarter.

“We think we flipped the whole branded entertainment model,” said Hopkins. “We brought the content in to the [advertisement].”

MTVN has also conducted research to determine the most effective ad units for short-form video content. As part of “Project Inform,” the company determined last year that the “most-effective,” “audience-friendly” ad units for video clips were a 5-second pre-roll spot accompanied by a display ad.

The company expects to announce new targeting capabilities for display and video ads soon.

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