MTV chief: Network focus on catering to teens

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As the brand that introduced the world to Madonna, music videos and "The Real World," MTV will continue to cater to teens through un-sugarcoated content and every means available to interact with them in a digital world.

That was the message Tuesday during a keynote address from MTV president Christina Norman at the What Teens Want conference in Marina del Rey.

The daylong event of panels and presentations explored how to best market to the teen generation of multiplatform consumers, which comprise the largest demographic on the Internet.

"At MTV, we respect them and don't talk down to them," said Norman, emphasizing the importance of delivering messages with more value to media-savvy teens. "It's about creating, sharing, validating, authenticity and kids just being kids. It's about letting them ultimately be the arbiter of what they consume."

Norman, who said the network plans to implement more social networking throughout its musical channels, noted the popularity of broadband channel MTV Overdrive, which allows audiences to build their own music playlists.

She also noted the popularity of MTV's Virtual Laguna Beach as an online community that allows fans of its teen-centric reality show to create avatars, socialize with friends and experience branded products in a virtual way.

"For us, Virtual Laguna Beach has been the perfect way to combine what everyone loves about MTV and social networking," she said.

Besides social networking, Norman emphasized MTV's commitment to addressing social causes and problems in response to a need to know from the younger demographic.

"We are still experimenting and playing a game to see what works," said Norman, noting MTV's documentary series "True Life," which offers among other things a view of crystal meth addiction. "We'll continue to create products and channels that meet all the needs of teens. In some ways the best thing about this revolution is the immediate response we get to what we do."

A later panel narrated by Sid Holt, editorial director of VNU Group, parent company of The Hollywood Reporter and organizer of the event, covered how marketers can capitalize on the popularity of virtual communities. It featured Elizabeth Bastiaanse, vp product development for Doppelganger; Jennifer Nielsen, marketing manager of YouTube; Adrian Si, interactive marketing manager of Scion; and Greg Tseng, CEO and co-founder of Tagged.com.

"YouTube is a new way for people to engage and be a part of something," Nielsen said. "And we want marketers to create content and become part of the community."

While Bastiaanse noted the increase of brand interaction on the Web, Si emphasized the need for greater brand integration, and Tseng spoke of the importance for brands to get beyond the banner and into product placement.

"Teens are incorporating brands on their page and delivering it to their friends as a welcome endorsement," Tseng said. "Advertisers need to become more like participants that just giving a straight message. They need to talk to consumers -- not 'at' them."
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