MTV Germany Fights "Flickering Corpse" Image with New Programming

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LONDON/HAMBURG - MTV Germany launched its own Website last month as part of a campaign to boost sagging viewership and re-establish the brand on the German market.


"The Website is part of our advertising campaign," marketing manager Stefan Vogel said. "We've budgeted DM 12 million ($6,74 million) for getting the message out about the new MTV."


The Website contains program information, news of interest to actual and potential viewers - e.g. "Youth riot in Berlin" - and links to other MTV programs including MTV US, MTV UK, MTV Nordic and MTV interactive.


MTV Europe has been under "reconstruction" for about a year, Ian Renwick, Senior VP for Communications of the MTV Network Europe, said, with stronger emphasis placed on local content than on uniform international programming.


Renwick claims the network is making progress but the influential German news magazine Der Spiegel gave readers a different perspective last month.


It published a devastating report on the channel that called MTV and sister channel VH-1 a "flickering corpse."


Viewership, the magazine said, was down to 19,000 and losses had piled up to DM 60 million ($33.7 million).


Despite 70 percent German hit parade programming, MTV "has lost its image as trend setter," the magazine quoted Dieter Gorny, boss of the rival Viva music channel, as saying. And it asked "is MTV still cool?'


The Spiegel's answer is a clear no. Ratings, it claimed, are plummeting. Efforts to encrypt MTV's satellite signal and force viewer to buy a decoder flopped as viewers fled in droves.


Viva, the magazine contended, is far ahead among the crucial younger viewers and it quotes ad agency account executives as preferring Viva because MTV "has become so much worse."


Renwick, who handles PR for the network outside Germany - German PR people are not allowed to talk to the non-German press - charged Spiegel with doing a hatchet job and distorting the figures.


Viewers are actually 40,000, he said, and dismissed the figures for MTV losses by saying "those figures are not in the public domain." Reminded that parent Viacom was a public company he said "we never break out regional performances.


"What we can say is that MTV in Germany has been and is profitable. Our distribution is growing. We are happy with our revenue stream. That Spiegel story came out of the blue.


"They seem to be saying that Germany does not have room for two music TV channels. We say there is, especially since Viva targets a teeny bopper market of 10 to 14 year olds. That's not our market.


"We want demographics that deliver for our advertisers and do so unambiguously. We target the 16 to 25 and 34 market because it will deliver for our client base."


Renwick conceded that the centralized program structure in London with regional offices in major markets did not work and had to be replaced to become relevant in Europe.


"What happened was the realization that our future lies in more localized delivery and so we built programming and marketing from the ground up in those places.


"Delivering relevance is not best done from London so now the predominant delivery of programming is done in Germany, and the Germans know the German market better than we do in London."


Event promotion is the major vehicle for publicizing the new approach MTV is taking in Germany. "We present the largest rock festival in Germany, Rock in the Park, and draw 60,000 people in Hamburg alone," Vogel said.


"We promote German skateboard championships in the winter and fly in big rock bands. We organize happenings that last over a whole weekend."


And MTV Germany also uses the pager service "quix" to get the message out. "When you buy the MTV pager you get the latest news about what's going on in the entertainment and music world.

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