MTV Comes Courting at CES

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LAS VEGAS -- Comedian Jon Stewart provided the "short answer" for why MTV Networks accepted an invitation for its top executive to speak at the International Consumer Electronics show here: "Money." The long answer, he said in--what else?--a video introduction: "Moooooonnnnnnneeeeeeyyyyy."

MTV Networks Chair and Chief Executive Officer Judy McGrath, in a frank and entertaining talk Thursday, confirmed that is exactly why she agreed to give a speech at the huge trade show. MTV Networks is looking for partners with the pitch that the company has a unique and proven understanding of young people, who are the top buyers and users of consumer electronics. McGrath even offered attendees her e-mail that anyone who wants to chat about a possible partnership or pitch a creative idea can get in touch with her.

Actually, MTV Networks has a decent understanding of a much larger audience than teenagers and college students, McGrath indicated. Fortysomethings were there for the debut of MTV (though each passing year makes that more of a distant memory), and they also tune in to VH1 Classics, one of the MTV Networks properties. MTV's holdings also include Nickelodeon, which us oldsters watch with our kids; Nick at Night; Comedy Central; TV Land; and Spike.

More Than Just TV

But the "TV" aspect of what the company does is just one part of its multimedia approach, she said, offering 17-year-old Kristin Culp of Sioux City, Iowa, as an example. Kristin is addicted to the MTV show "Laguna Beach." After she watches it, she logs on to the MTV Web site to get a sneak look at the next show and what her favorite character, Stephen, will be up to. She listens to the latest music from the show on her computer and then downloads bits of it to use as ringtones on her mobile phone. While she's at it, Kristin also downloads an exclusive digital photo of Stephen.

Then, she goes to her personal Web log and posts blog entries about the next show, Stephen's photo, and the new ringtones. She finishes up by letting all of her friends know that the new photo and ringtones are available and they in turn log on to the MTV site and the cycle begins anew, McGrath said.

"Our programming is the catalyst for 'mutlifornification' all over the place," McGrath said, using the word MTV has coined for multimedia usage by its fans.

For those who aren't convinced that MTV Networks could or should play in the IT vendor big leagues, the company has signed a deal with Microsoft to provide content services based on Windows Media technologies. That deal was announced as part of Microsoft Chair and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates' show-opening keynote speech Wednesday night. MTV Networks also has deals with Motorola and Vodafone Group.

Such deals allow IT companies to "join at the hipness," McGrath said wryly.

Music Service Coming Soon

Sometime this year, MTV Networks will launch a digital music service, she said, noting numerous times that it already has launched a video-on-demand service. Such services are part of the company's Digital Imperative initiative under which it intends to play a major role in global digital entertainment. As such, McGrath reminded attendees of MTV's wide reach--its programming is seen in 400 million households worldwide with eight of 10 viewers outside of the United States It is the only network on for 24 hours in China, she said, and next month it will launch in Africa, marking its 100th channel globally.

"We believe you can't be a media company today without being deeply immersed in technology and you can't be a technology company without being deeply immersed in media," she said.

The company's success owes partly to the fact that its employees, all the way to the top, refuse to grow up, she said. At the same time, the corporate culture understands and accepts that "one size doesn't fit all," that it caters to a wide range of ages and tastes, and that there is no such thing as being "too niche."

McGrath also believes that companies that could be viewed as competitors that are part of popular technology culture can, in fact, be helpful to MTV Network's cause. "It doesn't trouble me to see a kid walking down the street with an IPod," she said. "Somehow I feel that a benefit accrues to MTV in that."

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