How the TV screen became the second screen for MTV's OMAs

By Natan Edelsburg Comment

When MTV announced the third iteration of their audacious O Music Awards — which gets underway tomorrow night — they promised they would break the world record for most concerts in 24 hours, traveling across 8 cities in a wired-up bus while giving away an award every hour. When the Flaming Lips were announced as the band that would break the record, we knew we had to be there.

In addition to categories like “Must Follow Artist on Twitter,” the OMAs are uniquely a major tent-pole from a TV network where the second screen has become the main screen. We spoke to Lee Rolontz, executive producer for the O Music Awards and Brenna Ehrlich the managing editor for and the social media correspondent for the show.

Is it even possible to live stream an entire bus tour from Memphis to New Orleans? According to Rolontz, it is. She described to us in detail the fancy technology that’s being used to pull off this challenge. Also, if all else fails, they’ll cut back to their home base in New Orleans.

For a TV network trying to really innovate in digital, they’ve smartly made the main, traditional linear screen, the second screen. Throughout the 24-hours, broadcasts across their channels will give updates from the road, but the main action will be via the lives stream. We’ll be on the press bus behind the main bus live-tweeting and shooting video via Flip cam and Looxcie. Here’s a full list of the different artists that will make up this hopefully seamless road trip. You can tune in via #OMA.

Lost Remote: How is a production like this even possible? What if there’s traffic?

Lee Rolontz: We’re really breaking new ground this with show. We’re creating a live multi-layered event that’s part award show, part live performances, and part reality show… all while trying to pull off a challenging world record attempt. As you can imagine, we’ve had to develop a creative structure that allows these three critical themes to flow seamlessly into one another.

It’s an ambitious project and there are lots of things running in tandem. While the award/reality show is unfolding on the bus, we’re also simultaneously live streaming performances from artists like Grace Potter and Gary Clark Jr. Periodically, we’ll be cutting back to our home base in New Orleans, where various hosts are catching the audience and teasing what’s to come.

We’ve got lots of contingency plans should the bus breakdown, we get stuck in crazy traffic or delayed by weather. And while we obliviously want to break the record, we’re more excited about capturing and telling the story of this crazy, once-in-a-lifetime bus trip.

LR: How will you be bringing shows to all screens?

Rolontz: The central hub will be, where fans can vote, toggle between different camera views, as well as watch and share key show moments across their social graphs. On the mobile front, fans will be able to watch the entire show via the mobile web or the MTV News app. Throughout the course of the live event, MTV, VH1, CMT, MTV2 and Palladia will be breaking in from standard programming to provide updates from the road. In addition, each news organization, including MTV News, MTV Hive, VH1 News and others, will be providing up-to-the-minute coverage online and social platforms.

LR: In this case, the web is the main screen and TV is the second – do you agree? If so, why, If not, why not?

Rolontz: These awards were born out of celebrating digital music counter culture and while we’ve designed the experience to hit all screens, it is certainly rooted in digital platforms. With shows like MTV’s Video Music Awards, CMT Awards, VH1’s Divas Live and Unplugged, we’ve got the heavy weight champions of TV award and performance shows. So when the team was developing the concept for O Music Awards, they wanted to create a digitally driven interactive event that could serve as a testing ground for new ways to tell stories, connect artists and fans and of course give out awards.

LR: How will sponsors be integrated into this production, any social elements?

Rolontz: We’ve got a great roster of partners for this: Starbucks, Samsung, Virgin Mobile, Honda, SK Energy, Capitol One, State Farm and Universal Pictures’ Ted.

For instance, Starbucks is sponsoring the “Beyond the DJ: Most Innovative Solo Performer” award. We’ve created some really cool vignettes with each nominee that we’ve featured on and are also going to air on MTV leading up to the awards. In addition, one of the nominees, Grimes, is opening for the Lips in New Orleans.

With Samsung, we’re planning a couple of social and voting moments that will utilize the Samsung Galaxy Player. We’ve got something cool up our sleeves here, so I’m going to bite my tongue and not spoil it.

LR: How will the bus be live streamed when on the road?

Rolontz: Through a series Mobile Units, Satellite uplink trucks, cell phone transmission devices and state of the art production equipment, the production workflow for the OMA’s reaches new heights in production innovation. We’ll have two of our own 53 foot fully digital and high definition mobile units – Nereus and Barrie on the ground. In addition, the bus will house a Newtek Tricaster 855 (below) to create a fully integrated feed and edit as needed. To transmit while in the venues along the route as well as while driving, LiveU, the cellular-based technology that bonds together multiple 3G and 4G connections for mobile broadcast-quality audio and video uplink, will be supplying five LU70 transmission backpacks. The multiple OMA signals will be fed from the individual concerts via satellites and broadband to the site of the finale concert, New Orleans for editorial integrations and on to Viacom’s Operation Center in New York for encoding to the web, wireless and mobile.

LR: What are your thoughts on social TV?

Rolontz: It’s an incredible time to be a content creator. As you’ll see from these awards, we’re only limited now by our imagination. As an industry, we’re just starting to scratch the surface when it comes to creating true social television experiences. At VH1, we’ve activated a strategy called storytelling without borders which looks to engage fans during shows, between episodes and even between seasons. At the end of the day, it’s critical that we as industry continue to listen to the audience, embrace these changes and not be afraid to experiment.

LR: What’s your background?

Rolontz: I started my career at Sony Music in video production, so music has played a big part in my professional life. In addition to serving as the executive producer for the O Music Awards, I’m the executive vice president of original music production and development for VH1, where I executive produce a number of VH1 music series and specials like Storytellers, That Metal Show, Big Morning Buzz Live, VH1 Hip Hop Honors, and VH1 Divas. I also oversee the original programming, production and development for VH1 Classic. Before going in-house at VH1, I independently produced documentaries and specials for television with artists like Roger Waters, Bruce Springsteen, Christina Aguilera, Shania Twain, Sting, and Dave Matthews Band.

LR: How will you be live covering the show? Which social channels will you be posting to?

Brenna Ehlrich: I’ll serve as the real time lifeline between the fans and the folks on the bus. I’ll be tweeting from @OMusicAwards, posting to Facebook and photos to Instagram @OMusicAwards. We’re looking to leverage social to allow for interaction between fans and Wayne and company. During regular intervals during the show, I’ll be taking questions from the audience, as well as serving as the mouthpiece for Wayne and everyone else when they want to reach out to our followers. There might be a game of Twitter truth or dare. Who knows? Also, I’ll be blogging about everything at!

LR: What’s your background and how did you begin to work on the MTV OMAs?

Ehlrich: Before working for the OMAs, I was Associate Editor of Media and Entertainment at Mashable, where I wrote mostly about music & tech. I was in touch with the team at the OMAs – I was on a panel for the first show – and they approached me to take this position. I’ve been here for around a year now.

I’m also the co-author of the blog and book “Stuff Hipsters Hate” and a Netiquette columnist for CNN. I’m currently working on selling my first novel. In the past I was Associate Editor at Heeb Magazine, and before that got my Master’s at the Medill School of Journalism.

LR: How will social appear on linear? Will any of your coverage be on TV? Will there be any lower-third promos that you’ll be tracking as you cover?

Ehlrich: We’ll be promoting various hash tags across all of our screens during the O Music Awards. This includes television, in which we’ll be doing updates from the road and news items in lower-third promos.