MTV Web Show Boosts 'Avatar' Buzz

Network partners with Fox to feature James Cameron and film's stars

MTV is partnering with 20th Century Fox and social networking site Facebook on a live Web show featuring a roundtable discussion about the studio's long-anticipated holiday release, Avatar.

Avatar Live: An MTV News/Facebook Forum will feature director James Cameron, producer John Landau, and stars Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana taking questions from moderator Josh Horowitz, as well as from viewers watching the special on and the Avatar Facebook page. The special is slated to run live on the two sites at 3 p.m. on Dec. 3, in advance of the film's Dec. 18 release.

Avatar Live will be promoted on MTV's digital properties starting Nov. 30, with the network also using Facebook and Twitter to spread the message about the program. The deal is part of a larger marketing agreement MTV has with 20th Century Fox, but is the first time that the network has worked with an advertiser on a digital component of this scope.

Advertorial specials surrounding upcoming film releases have long been a staple of cable programming. In the case of MTV, the specials have mostly taken the form of its Behind the Screen series. The Web forum will serve as a lead-in to an Avatar-centric edition of Behind the Screen on the linear channel shortly before the fiilm's release.

The specials can also bring in revenue through other, more traditional sponsors. In the case of Avatar Live, LG Electronics is on board as a presenting sponsor.

As in Behind the Screen, all of the content produced for the special is being done in-house by MTV News, editorially independent of Fox.

Networks and movie studios typically have meetings during the upfronts to discuss the film slate for the upcoming year. “In those conversations, we talk about the movies that make the most sense for them and us to promote to the young adult audience, and [Avatar] is one of those films,” says John Shea, executive VP of integrated marketing for MTV Networks.

If the audience reaction and studio feedback are positive, MTV hopes to take the Inside the Actors Studio-esque format to other studios and companies. “We see this as a format that can work, and this digital expression with Avatar is something we would definitely pursue with other films, video games and other things where there is a backstory,” Shea says.

While this is the first time the interactive roundtable format will be presented online, it actually has its origins in an earlier MTV News-produced special for the 1996 film Romeo + Juliet, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes.

“For the right movies, to have that kind of roundtable discussion aspect to them makes a lot of sense,” Shea says. “We were looking at that time for an angle that was unique to [Romeo + Juliet], and what we did was create a forum with talent and fans, with young people in the audience asking questions.”

MTV is betting that the 2009 digital equivalent will carry the same weight.