Advertising and Marketing

MTV Upfront: More Than 'Skins' Deep

Sponsors reject controversial show, but network is still a must-buy to reach young viewers 1/31/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern

MTV might be having trouble
getting national advertisers to
sponsor its new series Skins,
but it shouldn’t have trouble drawing the
1,000 media buyers and clients it expects
for its upfront presentation Feb. 2 at New
York’s Hammerstein Ballroom, where Bruno
Mars will provide the music.

A certain amount of controversy has
always been part of the MTV brand. Furor
surrounded long-running shows like
Beavis & Butt-head and
Jackass. And a little more
than a year ago, Domino’s
Pizza and American Family
Insurance pulled out of Jersey
. Now that series
has been picked up for season
four, which will be set
in Italy. Snooki and friends
draw some of MTV’s highest
ratings ever, and the
show is Exhibit A in proving
that in the Internet age,
MTV is still relevant to the
youth of America.

That means that even while advertisers treat Skins as if it’s radioactive,
MTV remains a must-buy for marketers looking to target
younger consumers.

“With the MTV networks, and in particular MTV, there’s a lot of demand.
And when you are trying to target the 15-to-25 market, there
aren’t many networks that deliver the way that an MTV does,” said Jay
Langan, executive VP of California-based media buyer Ocean Media.

After the premiere episode of Skins, advertisers including Pizza
Hut, General Motors, H&R Block, Schick, Subway and Wrigley
pulled out of the show, leaving only movie companies, Red Bull and
remedies for zits and stretch marks as sponsors. But it’s important
to note that most of those marketers moved their ad dollars to other
MTV shows.

“It does not necessarily reflect the whole network,” said Francois
Lee, VP/activation director at MediaVest, agency for many large advertisers.
Lee plans on going to the upfront to hear about MTV’s
programming strategy. “It is very hard to roll out long-term programming
[plans] because that young
audience is more fickle and their habits
and tastes could change,” said Lee,
who likes that MTV is adding scripted
shows to its reality hits.

Powered by the success of Jersey
, MTV’s ratings among its core
12-to-34-year-old audience climbed
15% last year and 21% in the fourth
quarter. That helped power parent
company Viacom to accelerating domestic
ad sales growth and ad prices in
the scatter market that were more than
20% higher than in last year’s upfront,
according to analysts, who expect 2011
to bring more of the same.

“With a blockbuster opening to Jersey
’s fourth season in the first
quarter of 2011, all but ensuring success
this year, media buyers indicated
to us that should MTV be able to
launch more mainstream scripted fare,
it would have a much easier time carrying
its momentum into 2012 and
beyond,” David Bank, analyst at RBC
Capital Markets, said in a recent report.

This year’s upfront presentation will be
led by Jeff Lucas, who had been executive
VP in charge of MTV Networks’ entertainment
networks before adding its
music networks to his portfolio in December.
Sean Moran, who had been in
charge of ad sales for the music channels,
was given a new role that has not been
publicly defined, and the sales heads of
the music channels’ New York, Chicago
and Los Angeles offices were dismissed.

MTV will be presenting research about the power of the Millennial
generation and the network’s connection to it. It plans to send that
message through the people who appear in its programs. Members
of the cast of Jersey Shore, My Life as Liz and Teen Mom will speak.
along with the young actors from the network’s new wave of scripted
shows, including Teen Wolf, Good Vibes and even Skins.

Despite lower ratings for its second episode and the advertiser
pull-out, as of last week, MTV said it was standing by Skins. Viewership
remained higher than expected and is comparable to other
teen dramas, so there were no plans to cancel the series or change
its time period.

And if young people watch, advertisers will come, especially at
bargain prices. “There are so many advertisers out there that need
impressions,” said Don Seaman, VP at media agency MPG. “There
are some very big advertisers that wouldn’t want to be in [Skins], but
there’s always someone that’s going to be out there.”

E-mail comments to
and follow him on Twitter: @jlafayette