MTV fell short of its ratings guarantees to advertisers in
the Sept. 6 telecast of the MTV Video Music Awards to the tune of about 60% in
households and in the 18-34 and 18-49 ratings, according to media agency
The network guaranteed a household rating of 8.0 and
delivered a 3.2, guaranteed an 18-34 demo rating of 8.0 and only reached a 3.1
and guaranteed an 18-49 rating of 6.0 and only recorded a 2.3 in that demo.
The huge shortfalls will mean lots of make-goods for
advertisers and has MTV executives wondering whether or not they should have
moved the telecast from Sunday, where it drew 12.4 million viewers last year,
to Thursday night this year, where it pulled in only 6.1 million viewers. While
under normal circumstances an audience of 6 million for a cable show would be
solid, the MTV Video Music Awards is the network's flagship event each year,
and the glaring decline in viewers has brought the network lots of the wrong
kind of publicity. Media agency research execs cannot recall an annual TV event
special losing 50% of its audience from one year to the next.
While MTV will have to dole out a sizable amount of
make-good commercial time, there were some positives for many of the
advertisers who chose to activate their brands with sponsorships that went
beyond TV commercials in the telecast.
"There were other metrics of success beyond the ratings," says
one media agency executive. "The social media aspect is important, especially
given the MTV demographic, which I think MTV delivered on."
An MTV spokesperson says, "We never talk about ratings
guarantees or individual ad spends, but we can say that this year, the VMA
on-air and online marketing partnerships reached incredible levels of
engagement. From our multiple-screen campaign with Pepsi, to several integrated
marketing executions throughout the show and the pre-show, our clients like
P&G's Cover Girl, Verizon, State Farm and Microsoft/Bing were pleased with
not only the seamless creative execution but record-breaking level of social
engagement the VMAs prompted."
MTV said the awards telecast was the top social media event
of the year, and according to research company Trendrr, the event drew more
than three times the Internet conversation as last year's telecast. Trendrr reported
that there were more than 19 million mentions during the telecast. However, that
has no effect on the ratings numbers: The network still owes the make-goods for
the shortfalls and for over-guaranteeing by 60% across multiple demos, which
will mean a sizable financial hit for MTV.
Billie Gold, VP and director of buying/program
research at media agency Carat, believes that moving the telecast from
Sunday to Thursday night definitely contributed to some viewer decline. "Then
they pushed it up to the 8 p.m. hour in order not to go directly against
President Obama's nominating speech at the Democratic convention," Gold says. "The
8 p.m. start is an hour earlier than past telecasts and the HUT [Households
Using Television] levels are lower during that hour. MTV's core audience is
definitely more available later at night."
Gold says that while the Democratic Convention audience
skews older, "I'm sure some viewers were lost."
Gold also raised a question as to whether the VMAs got the
same level of pre-telecast promotion they received last year, and said Jersey Shore was already off the air a
while before the VMA telecast, meaning the event lost a good promotional outlet
to its core audience.
Much like the Oscars depend on the broad popularity of that
year's movie nominees for Best Picture to draw audiences, the VMAs depend on
the performers nominated in each category. While more young viewers may watch
regardless, older viewers may not tune in if no one closer to their age is
"There was no Adele or any artist like her who appeals to
multi-generations," Gold says. "Most people over 25 don't even know who One
Direction is, and they were the big winners of the night."
On a percentage basis, Gold does not recall any annual major
TV entertainment event losing 50% of its audience from the previous year. "The
NAACP Awards on Fox dropped about 40% over a two-year period between 2009 and
2011," Gold says, but that was off a smaller audience base, and Fox shifted the
night from the higher HUT levels of a Thursday night to lower-viewing night
Friday. "In 2012, the NAACP Awards moved over to NBC and even though they aired
on a Friday, the ratings went up a bit," Gold adds.
"The Oscars in 2008 had a 20% drop-off with the lack of any
big budget movies and mostly dark independent films nominated that year. And
the Miss America Pageant had some big declines when it went from ABC in 2004 to
CMT. But that's all I can think of," says Brad Adgate, senior VP research at
Horizon Media. Despite all the reasoning, Adgate says the 50% audience drop-off
for the VMAs this year "was surprising."
"I think there is an ebb and flow in popularity of MTV and
the last few years they have been on a ratings high led by Jersey Shore," Adgate adds. "Perhaps the pendulum is starting to
swing back. While it was a popular social media event, that's more a function
of the growth of social media than it is the popularity of the VMAs."
The MTV spokesperson said in previous years the VMA telecast
has aired in late August rather than after Labor Day and that could have
contributed to some of the audience falloff, with so much going on in
August and into the first week of September. "This year posed some added
complexities with the Olympics, both political conventions, the launch of some
of the fall broadcast shows earlier, the NFL Kickoff telecast and venue
availability. Plus we wanted to move to a larger arena this year, the Staples
Center," the spokesperson explains.