MTV hits 100M likes, interview with President Stephen Friedman

By Natan Edelsburg Comment

As social TV matures, major cable networks continue to treat the growth of their social channels as important as the growth of the linear channels. MTV, which started its main Facebook page in November 2007, has reached over 100 million likes across all their show pages (not including the characters).

This success is no surprise to a network that continues to push boundaries when in it comes to integrating social with its reality and scripted programming and tent-pole events, like the VMAs. The 2011 VMAs was the network’s highest watched in thirty years, and 2010 yielded them their biggest ratings gain in a decade. On the eve of the MTV upfront later this week, we spoke with MTV President Stephen Friedman about the importance of social TV to deliver content and bring extra opportunities to their advertisers.

Lost Remote: What does the 100 million likes mean for the network?

Stephen Friedman: I think it’s a staggering number, it’s symbolically interesting. We also reach 100 million screens, as we have always had this broad reach on TV through cable distribution, the idea that now an entirely new platform at an equal number, that’s just a staggering, is just a powerful statement of the need to engage our audience everywhere they live. That connection between 100 million on TV and 100 million on a social platform like Face, is testament to the importance, that were telling the story of our content across all of our screens. [Our viewers] they just want to be entertained, it’s less important about where.

LR: Besides, being relevant and useful to digital natives, how does this help your business goals? Is it about delivering content or more opportunities for advertisers?

SF: It’s really both. First, it’s making sure we engage with our audience. Our partnership with Verizon around the Music Awards is a good example. They brought our Twitter tracker.

We knew Beyonce would make this announcement [about being pregnant] a couple of hours in advance, we were able to make sure this story was told across all of our platforms. Almost instantaneously to her announcing that on the VMAs [it blew up on Twitter]. Verizon was able to be a part of that culturally powerful moment. I really do believe that was why we had our most watched show in our 30 year history. If you were on Twitter and Facebook and heard about this, you were going to want to see Kanye give Jay-Z a hug now that he’s a proud father. That was a moment the audience wanted to coalesce around, it was good for us good for the audience and good for Verizon as well. There have a been a lot of those opportunities, where our sponsors have helped accelerate the story opportunities.

One example, around Teen Wolf, with AT&T, to create an entire separate mini series that played out in between episodes online. AT&T sponsored it and the creator of Teen Wolf [Jeff Davis] wrote it. The phones they were using were central to the story line, they helped deepened the story, that really helped keep interest high when they didn’t have the show [on air].

At the end of Teen Wolf in August, just in terms of filming, it would take 9 months to get show back on air. We created a bridge strategy, using and Facebook and Twitter. We were able to continue to engage with audience, even fans coming to visit the sets.

These Wolf Pack girls were brought to set and they ended up doing all kinds of programming. The show hasn’t launched again, it will launch after the Movie Awards in June. Since the show went off the air the fan base increased 50%. For us, that’s an amazing example of how you feed that hunger that the audience has without using TV at all.

[For next season] a sponsor will be able to be part of a deep engagement online, the fans of the show can friend the characters from the show. The characters will then give clues, that only the people online will be playing. The creators of the show, will put them on screen and only the audience that has played the game with Facebook, brought to you by sponsors, [will know that it was part of the game]. We’re talking to a few of them now about it now.

Our sponsors are looking for a different engagement. We don’t want to lose the audience either [when the show isn’t airing]. It’s a double win.

LR: What role will social will play at the MTV upfront later this week?

SF: At the end of the day, it’s all about great content and a great story. What we found with so many of our social media partners, whether its Tumblr or Instagram or Facebook – it has to be adding to the story. If it doesn’t transform the story, I don’t know if it adds much.

I think our audience, regardless of the platform they’re playing in, they wanted to be entertained. For us personally, turning over the reigns of the social media strategy to the 24 year-olds that work here — they have a level of sophistication here that educates all of us.

[When it comes to social TV] is it true to the utilities and usefulness of the platform they’re using and is it entertaining? Bells and whistles that don’t entertain them in a deeper way, I don’t know think they’ll last.

Social TV analytics shop Trendrr displayed this growth via the following infographic: