BY: Yohan P Chawla
MTV being a youth brand has never failed to surprise its audience. I remember back in the days before YouTube, MTV was the only source of music Indipop and international music videos – like my own growing-up days favourite the Backstreet Boys. And over the past years, across the advent of digital, it’s been a long and rewarding journey for the music channel-turned-youth brand which has grown in perception and performance to be the leader in creating riveting ‘unscripted content’, as Ferzad Palia, Head – Music, Youth and English Entertainment, Viacom18 describes it.
Palia joined the network in 2004 and went onto become a part of the Viacom18 leadership team at the young age of 28 — a young veteran indeed.
I met up with Palia on the launch of two new unscripted content shows, Elovator Pitch and Ace The Space, and a fourth season of the on-going India’s Top Model, which essentially to my mind translate to unscripted reality shows. Anyone who has met him will agree the genial senior executive is extremely knowledgeable, and since he also always speaks with a disarming candour, my first question to him was: Doesn’t he think ‘unscripted reality’ is a contradiction in terms?
Palia smiled and said “It is all unscripted content which is the genre of content. Reality is one kind of unscripted content.”
Success with ratings, content, engagement
Before going on to speak at greater length about the new shows, I asked him about how MTV has been doing. Palia said, “All our experiments have paid off rich dividends — especially on the ratings front. We have doubled our television ratings in the past twelve months, tripled the content consumption on Voot. Social media engagement in the past year has increased by at least two and a half times; not followers, but engagement. All these are positive trends which tell us that the content we create is resonating with the audiences.”
Speaking on the core TG and MTV’s strong digital footprint, Palia said, “Our main target audience is in the age bracket of 15 to 25. To reach out to our audiences, while we are definitely backed by the network, we will go well beyond the network.The network supports us for everything we do. Whether it’s outdoor, print, TV, digital, etcetera. The great part is that we are extremely strong on digital in any case.”
A solid youth brand with great Social media presence
All the MTV VJs and its on-screen talent have a very strong personal social media presence and are influencers in the true sense. And this contributes hugely to their social media footprint. He must be happy with the way that is working out. Palia says, “We have a very large social media base across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and every possible platform, which is doing a phenomenal job for us.”
“We have the largest following of any youth brand; not a television channel but a youth brand across the country. And then we also have the catch-up content available on Voot; for all shows across the channel, there is special and exclusive content which is created around the show content,” Palia said.
The largest creators of unscripted content in the country
We move on to unscripted content, and Palia sets the background. “About 2 years ago, Viacom18 launched a dedicated Bollywood music channel MTV Beats, thereby extending the MTV brand and reorganizing the portfolio. MTV Beats is our music face and brand, and so, MTV takes on the mantle of creating all sorts of unscripted content, and that is really what makes it a great situation for us where we are the largest creators of unscripted content in the country.”
Reflecting on MTV’s journey, Palia said, “When we launched MTV, it was a very different channel from what you see today. It was English, international, music, and a bit of pop-culture. Over time, for needs of business and scale, we localized the brand in the mid-2000s, when we did a little bit of Hindi and a little bit of English, and then we went into being completely Hindi. And that’s when we launched VH1 in 2005 to take care of the audience that preferred international content. After which we started creating unscripted content and created MTV Beats as the music brand of the MTV family.”
Content Marketing through MTV Brand Studio
Claiming to have invented branded content back in the early days, MTV also has its own branded content arm, MTV Brand Studio, for advertisers wanting edgy and quirky branded content from the youth powerhouse.
“We were the guys who invented what today is called branded content, through customization,” Palia said. “There are different terms used for it, like content marketing or AFPs (advertiser funded programs). I think we led a lot of those trends and that is a significant part of our business under MTV Brand Studio, where we actually create turn-key content, manage platforms and so on and so forth for various advertisers. Some are short-term projects, some are on-going,” Palia said.
And with that, we moved on to the main business at hand – the new shows and season of unscripted shows on MTV.
The new shows and season of unscripted shows
Season 4 of India’s Next Top Model
The fashion-based International format’s fourth season, India’s Next Top Model will celebrate the new-age woman through it’s the transformative and progressive theme of ‘More than a Face’. The new season, again seeking to redefine the tenets of beauty and fashion, premieres today, the 6th of October, and will air every Saturday at 7PM.
The edition will once again see host and judge Malaika Arora, co-judges Milind Soman(India’s first supermodel) along with leading Bollywood photographer Dabboo Ratnani and mentors VJ Anusha Dandekar and grooming expert Neeraj Gaba. This season, they have Livon and Maybelline as Brand partners.
New Show: MTV’s Elovator Pitch
This is a fresh concept for the young Indian audiences who love dating. So 10 boys on 10 floors get one chance to woo one beautiful girl in an elevator – like quickly making an elevator pitch for love, hence Elovator Pitch. The show will takes the idea of speed dating to the next, pun intended, ‘level’. On every floor, there’s a young man at the elevator door. The young lady in the elevator encounters these men who try to woo her in their limited time. Towards the end of it, she must shortlist three young men from the lot of her ‘suitors’ and decide to go on a date with one. Oh, and the show flips it for the men too – there are 10 ladies awaiting one young man on every floor for his chance to be wooed by them.
Elovator Pitch premieres on Friday, the 12th of October at 7 pm, to air weekly thereafter. The show will be hosted by VJ and actor Cyrus Sahukar along with VJ Gaelyn Mendonca.
New Show: ‘ACE OF SPACE’
This interesting concept has 18 contestants in 6 rooms vying to win not money or hearts or the love of their lives, but to win the most basic means of existence – space! Ace of Space will test survival skills like never before. Premiering on October 20, it’s a daily show. The show features former Bigg Boss contestant Vikas Gupta as the mastermind.
The contestants in the show will fight for space in 18ftX18ft rooms through tasks that test the endurance and skills of co-existing amidst polarizing personalities. After a series of tasks, nominations and eliminations, the rooms will progressively squeeze down over a period of 6 weeks to a size of 6ftX3ft in dimension, making it extremely difficult for the contestants.
So MTV is working hard to stand true to its claim of being a youth brand and not just a television channel.
What remains to be seen is how well the fresh unscripted content would contribute to making MTV an even bigger youth brand. Knowing the feisty team behind the channel and shows, one feels upbeat.