Bringing Live to Life For a New Generation | V by Viacom


Bringing Live to Life For a New Generation

MTV Redefines the VMAs and TRL for Millennial and Gen Z Audiences.

Aug 24, 2017

Live content is exploding online—and with it the expectation that it somehow holds our attention for more than just the 3.5 minutes per video most people average on their mobile devices. Credit this growing obsession to people’s desire for more immediate, more compelling, and more personal experiences, which ironically, are some of the key reasons they keep tuning in to linear television too.

So what does that mean for execs in the TV biz? According to Viacom Velocity’s CMO Dario Spina (whose team executes and oversees branded content integrations and experiential events for live shows like the MTV Video Music Awards), it comes down to demonstrating something more provocative, fresh, or powerful that can’t always be experienced through traditional scripted programming. “A younger audience is already used to this level of immediacy,” he explains. “They access real-time information and see things trend quickly even if they’re not looking for it.”

Then vs. Now

From the context of live award show programming, the VMAs used to be one of two things for fans. For the few, scoring a coveted spot outside the event just so you could catch a glimpse of your favorite musical act. For the many, a living room tune-in party with family and friends offering up running commentary on everything from Eminem’s army of lookalikes during his 2000 VMA performance of “The Real Slim Shady” to Lil’ Kim and what’s been called the most iconic VMA look of all time.


But now, with the advent of multi-screen viewing, that excitement and discourse is being funneled through multiple channels all at once, with live telecasts functioning as a tentpole and social media platforms acting as an amplifier and engagement tool. In the case of MTV, a live show now means what you see on your TV screen and everything else you might be commenting on or sharing with your social media circle in that moment. From hosts posting selfies on Snapchat, to exclusive music videos dropping online, Spino refers to these tactics as “all screens plus,” indicating a need to anticipate and adapt live programming to fit every viewer and every viewing filter all at once.

Adaption is also a key element that comes into play when describing the live programming tactics behind MTV’s upcoming Total Request Live reboot in October. With five rotating hosts (all of whom are social influencers in their own right—an important element from a live programming standpoint), and a desire to return to its roots, MTV is ready to court Gen Z by nodding to a format that was hugely successful for a decade while also giving fans an expanded voice both behind the scenes and in front of the camera.

Currently, MTV has algorithms in place to gauge real-time social sentiment around content and use that to direct and/or pivot their direction. This is equally true for editorial and for advertisers. In addition, every live program has a mandate to address what’s trending that day, that hour, and that minute. Look for the new after-school TRL to both surface pop-culture news breaking that morning and invite the social community to join in sharing day-of-the-week themes such as #ManCrushMondays and #ThrowbackThursdays.

Matthew Newcomb, VP of integrated marketing at MTV, sees the expansion of the brand’s live programming strategy as an opportunity to positively impact scripted programming as well. Having the ability to extend the real-time connection with fans beyond a show’s 44-minute duration or an event’s 2.5 hours via Facebook Live broadcasts with talent (something pre-produced shows such as Teen Wolf, Promposal, and My Super Sweet 16 are already doing), “is something that allows the expression of an individual show IP to get bigger and longer,” Newcomb explains.

Living the Live Mindset

Before, MTV was a cultural catalyst; now it’s a cultural conversationalist too, using live programming as a means to engage and attract a new generation of fans. “I want my MTV” used to be a catchphrase—now it’s placing the emphasis on “my” in response to a growing rallying cry from Gen Z to be heard and recognized by brands. More so than any other generation before them, both groups want to experience live content in real-time, but also expect to have a readily available platform on hand to express their thoughts while doing it—including everything from the current social issues of the day to the ever-pressing discussion about what Rihanna wore on the red carpet last night.