MTV Partners With Oddcast to Launch Virtual Playgrounds

MTV is extending some of its most popular franchises into virtual “playgrounds” online this week through a partnership with Oddcast.

Starting today, visitors to Virtual MTV ( can enter online environments for “The Hills,” “Pimp My Ride,” and “The Real World,” where they will be able to create speaking avatars that interact with others both on and off the site. Oddcast developed the platform, known as Voki, that creates and supports the avatars.

Users can furnish their avatars with their own voices and have them speak to others via e-mail or online posts. The various “playgrounds” will allow users to interact in different ways, such as exchanging gossip about “The Hills,” sharing secrets in the “Real World Confessional Booth,” or even auditioning for a real episode of “Pimp My Ride.”

Voki “allows any consumer, without downloading anything, to create their own avatar and participate in these thematic galleries,” said Shaival Shah, VP of business development and strategy for Oddcast. “But it also provides a virtual identity, with MTV as the access point, that they can take to any other social network or virtual reality they have.”

Indeed, MTV is banking on users embedding their avatars, or others’, on their Facebook pages, blogs, or any other social media. Because the network will maintain a degree of content control over the avatars, it will be able to push messages — either for itself or advertisers — directly to that media.

For example, after embedding a Pimp My Ride avatar on one’s MySpace page, that avatar can then deliver spoken messages about an upcoming episode, or direct users to a sponsor’s Web site.

Precisely how much access MTV will give advertisers to the technology is unclear, however. MTV did not respond to requests for an interview, and Shah could not provide information about potential advertising partners.

“Virtual MTV is built on the premise that we offer the latest in technology to our fans in an organic way that deeply engages them on an individual level, and brings them together with other like-minded people,” said Jeff Yapp, EVP of program enterprises for MTV Networks Music & Logo Group, in a statement. “Voki’s technology is helping us take that experience one step further with an innovative approach that allows fans to take personalization to an entirely new level.”

The avatars benefit MTV beyond advertising and audience engagement, however. By allowing users to audition for episodes of Pimp My Ride, the network is able to cast a wider net for the aging show without having to invest more time in receiving and watching physical audition tapes.

The Voki platform is not exclusive to MTV, however. The technology is currently used on many popular sites, enabling the creation of more than 300 million avatars a month, according to Shah.

Voki is the platform that allows for the newly enabled avatar function on, and Microsoft began using it in December to help spread the word of its Ultimate Office suite among college students.

Shah said that marketing messages sent through the application typically experienced between a 5 percent and 15 percent click-through rate. “These are spoken calls to action from people you choose to listen to,” he said.

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