Why MTV Is Spending So Much Money on 'Skins' Marketing

MTV's Skins– an adaptation of the hit British show about a clutch of libidinous teens – has yet to premiere in the U.S. but the moment MTV announced it would be part of an overall scripted push at the network, the claws came out.

The original series frankly explored controversial themes including sexual orientation, drug and alcohol use, family dysfunction and mental illness including eating disorders. And fans wondered – on discussion boards and Facebook – if MTV could do justice to Skins, which aired in its original form in the U.S. on BBC America.

They were merciless in posts on the MTV's Skins Facebook page. Among the comments: "This is gonna hurt to watch"; "I hate this show already"; "America will make Skins to stupid"; "US SKINS is bollocks!"

So MTV co-opted the comments and, in the lingua franca of Gen Next, put them in a "Haters Gallery."

It was all part of the network's marketing effort – the biggest off-channel media spend in network history – to turn haters into fans and build a community around the show well before its Jan. 17 premiere. But the cult fervor, said Tina Exarhos, MTV's executive vp of marketing and multi-platform creative, required some letting go.

"When you unleash this beast, it's unleashed," she said. "If you don't develop a thick skin around the commenting, you're not going to make it. The fans feel like they own it. They say exactly what they think."

Diverging from network orthodoxy, MTV launched a standalone Skins site rather than simply putting a landing page on MTV.com. Since the network began promoting the show during the October finale of Jersey Shore, traffic on the site has "exploded," said Exarhos.

And as the network has released more content – trailers, cast intros, Q&As – the comments from fans went from "really negative to mostly positive," she added.

To date, Skins.tv has counted more than 5 million video streams, 500,000 uniques, 11,500 Facebook "likes" and 140,000 mobile page views. And a Skins theme song contest has so far generated more than 6,000 submissions.

"It's not like we're in active promotion of Skins on the homepage," said Exarhos. "That's the hugest bet. We basically created a standalone site and handed the tools to the audience to play around with the content wherever they are."

This week, MTV will launch several Skins apps including: "What's Your Skins Score," that has users answer questions about their private lives; "Who's More Skins," which rates likeness to various Skins characters; and "Where it Went Down," which lets users map seminal life events such as the location of a first kiss.

Adds Exarhos: "There's a lot of stuff that you just have to let go of. You kind of give them the tools and see where they take it.