Television may soon regain its place as a social linchpin—at least for those in MTV's youth demographic. Gone (for the most part) are the days when family members would gather around a television set to watch and comment on programming, but with a new product being offered across the pond by Viacom's MTV and digital agency AKQA, this kind of sharing experience will have a new home on mobile device screens, rather than the living room couch.
At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, MTV and AKQA today debuted "MTV Under the Thumb," a social sharing tool that will allow users to view MTV network content on their mobile devices, tap distant friends to view it with them, and dialogue with these friends via a built-in live chat app, said Ben Jones, director of technology for AKQA in Europe. Another feature allows users to hook their mobile devices up to a Web browser for larger-screen viewing, in which case a phone would act as a remote control.
The service will come with different levels of access. Some limited content will be offered to users free of charge—these users will have to watch pre-rolls before viewing content—while two other subscription levels allow for more access and fewer ads. Michel Dupont, svp of mobile for MTV North & International, told Adweek that while the platform allows for a "discreet" logo ad to also be served in the upper right corner of the app display, his main priority in launching the app is current customer satisfaction.
"My first concern is to have retention of the 2.5 million MTV mobile clients," he said. "Advertising will follow in a natural way."
It may seem strange that the United States would be left out of the game plan for the launch of such a new and innovative kind of content-based social sharing, but Dupont said the choice to debut in the EU was based on the presence of an existing agreement with mobile operators in seven European countries, as well as MTV's expansive business in the region, which includes its own mobile service.
"I'm sure our U.S. colleagues are following what we're doing here," he said. "There have been some discussions....But there has been no concrete conversation. It would obviously be a great thing to do."
Jones said the idea for a social television app was borne out of discussions with the broadcaster, which was seeking a way to bring its youth-centric content in the most relevent way to its target demographic. This demo shares some distinct characteristics, he said, including a desire for immediate access to content, a propensity to use other screens—especially mobile—to view content, a need to be in constant communication and an expectation of access and authority over what's being viewed.
"What this generation does," he said, "is remove the barriers."
Dupont said that while the concept of social TV is not new, it didn't gain immediate traction, allowing MTV in Europe some flexibility in developing the technology. "We've worked on this for more than a year. There are a lot of people talking about social TV, but nobody did it," he said. We didn't have the pressure of numbers or timing."
MTV Under the Thumb will be available in March for both Android and iOS platforms in Germany, Holland, Belgium, France, Italy and Switzerland.