Viacom’s MTV to Take 'Isle of MTV' Franchise to Japan

Courtesy of MTV Networks

In partnership with the Miyako Island Tourism Association, the network will next year produce a free concert as it continues to expand its growing international music tourism business.

LONDON – Viacom’s MTV is continuing to build a business around music tourism internationally, announcing Wednesday that it is taking its Isle of MTV franchise beyond Europe to Japan.

In a partnership with the Miyako Island Tourism Association, the network, which has in the U.S. mostly been known for such reality franchises as Jersey Shore in recent years, will produce and film a free concert on March 23, 2013.

It will take place on the Miyako-Jima island, the largest in Japan's Okinawa region, during spring break. Performers will be announced at a later date.

Without much fanfare and attention from analysts or others, MTV's international business has done well with such free concert partnerships with tourism boards. In such partnerships, financial terms of which aren't disclosed, MTV typically books famous performers and films the concert specials that then air on its TV and digital platforms.

The events allow MTV’s networks outside the U.S. to provide in-person events to its fans to extend its brand beyond the TV screen and open up opportunities for advertisers in the tourism and travel categories.

"A few years ago, we decided to create a new property that really embraced the fact that we were all around the world and that music continues to be an important part of MTV," said Bob Bakish, president and CEO of Viacom International Media Networks. “World Stage airs every Friday, typically, on our international MTV networks [in around 150 territories passing something like 600 million homes]. The idea was to showcase great bands in great cities.”

Asked about business benefits, he explained: “Travel and tourism is a great intersection, because the people who go these events and consume them on TV and on our digital platforms are an important demo for the travel and tourism industry. Our data says that 20 percent of global travelers are between 16 and 29, and they spend $135 billion–plus a year, so it is an attractive demo.”

Tourism boards and cities like the exposure and MTV's ability to draw visitors, typically 15,000-plus for each concert, especially the young demos the concerts often attract.

This summer, MTV had its first World Stage event in Gothenburg, Sweden with Nelly Furtado and this year’s Swedish winner of the Eurovision Song Content, Loreen, and its fourth Malaysia concert in Kuala Lumpur, which featured Justin Bieber and several Asian acts. And on Wednesday, Linkin Park will play a World Stage event in Monterrey, Mexico, the country’s third such event.

In this bigger context, the Isle of MTV franchise has been associated with the European island of Malta for the past six years. This summer’s sixth annual Malta event, which has by some estimates become the largest free open-air concert in Europe, featured Flo Rida and, among others, but next year the network is looking to add the Japanese island destination to the mix.

Sponsors for the concert events have included Cornetto ice cream, which was the partner of this summer’s Malta special, Ray-Ban sunglasses and computer maker Lenovo, which sponsored the Bieber event.

When MTV started such concerts and the Isle of MTV franchise in 2007 in Malta, Bakish said artists had to be talked into performing with more effort. Now they understand the opportunity to interact with fans in distant locations and in a special televised event, especially in cities that have put on shows before.

Lady Gaga, for one, performed at an early Malta outing before she had her big breakthrough and asked for a chance to return to Malta, he recalled.

The new Japan venture is the latest step for the international concert tourism business of MTV. "We see more upside in this music travel business, which has been a real area of growth for us," Bakish told THR.

While he didn't disclose financial details, he said many of the city relationships are envisioned for several years, and advertising revenue growth in this field is in the double-digit percentage range.

But the events themselves must make business sense. "At the end of the day, we run a business," said Bakish. “It costs us a certain amount of money to go and set up and have adequate look and feel for the event and security. So, we need to feel this is a viable business proposition, and it means that a city needs to commit resources and cash to it. We need to make sure that when we leave the city after the event, we are in the black.”

In addition, MTV may bring in additional sponsors for its incremental benefit, said Bakish. “The other incremental benefit is we use the product on our linear and digital networks, but that is not in our direct calculus.”

Another benefit is that locations used for MTV live outings can be evaluated for potential later use as sites for the EMAs, he said. Gothenburg, for example, pitched itself for that event. “Tourism boards and local governments like to showcase their city, and representatives from Gothenburg and other cities came to last year’s European Music Awards in Belfast to pitch their city as a location,” he said. Bakish said his team decided to try a World Stage production in Sweden first.

“When you go to new locations, it’s exciting, but a little more stressful to put a production together,” he said. “Our live events help us create a pipeline of cities for a potential larger event like the EMAs. We can see what it is like to work with the local government and check out the location before committing to something bigger.”

The concert destinations typically report benefits in terms of traveler awareness. Bakish said the Malta Tourism Authority has lauded the event for making it a desirable destination for younger travelers again. Visitors below the age of 24 have risen 88 percent since the first Isle of MTV event, according to data Malta provided to MTV, Bakish said. Japan’s Miyako-Jima is clearly hoping for a similar benefit.

Twitter: @georgszalai