MTV exec: Social is a new programming platform

Many people are talking about how TV networks can leverage the power of social networks to help build their show audiences. But they may be missing the point. According to Dermot McCormack, EVP of Digital Media for MTV, (s VIA) social networks aren’t just for announcing when the next episode of Jersey Shore airs, but a whole new platform for media creation and distribution.

That’s an insight that has come after MTV spent the last three years engaging with its audience online through networks like Facebook or Twitter. In an interview, McCormack told us that MTV first built its social group back in 2008 to help understand how its viewers were using social networks and determining how best to interact with them.

“We were struggling with idea of what these new platforms mean,” McCormack said. “The one thing we know is that when we do things we need to make money from them.”

While it’s difficult to pick out what’s causation and what’s correlation, McCormack points out that the most recent MTV Video Music Awards were the most tweeted event of all time. It was also one of the highest-rated shows in MTV history. “Is there a connection? We think so,” he said. “Have we proven all the pieces of the puzzle? No.”

Even so, McCormack believes that potential viewers seeing their Twitter feeds blowing up will lead at least some of them to tune in to see what all the fuss is about.

The art of building buzz

Before you get to that point, however, you need to give social network users something to do to get them engaged with the platform ahead of these big tentpole events. And that’s where MTV’s social content strategy comes in. For MTV, which has a huge millennial audience, the need to be social was extremely important, as it recognized early on that its young viewer base was precisely the group that was engaging with these new platforms.

“Social deserves its own programming,” McCormack said. “This is a new programming platform. It’s not just about ‘Watch Jersey Shore at 10 o’clock.’ It’s about how do we generate content and stories to engage people on these platforms.”

And so MTV has been creating about 200 to 300 pieces of new content a day that lives on various websites and social platforms — on top of the programming that airs on its TV networks. Not only do those pieces of content have to be relevant to its shows and its brand, but they also have to be tailored to the platform that they appear on.

“Every time a new platform evolves, we say, ‘What is the content that’s relevant and endemic to this platform?'” McCormack said. So for instance, short, snappy, headline-driven stories are good for Facebook, while photo essays are good for distribution on Instagram.

Content is still king

All that said, while social can certainly help amplify a message and help to grow a show’s audience. It’s not a cure-all for networks — especially if the content isn’t that good. “Social media doesn’t make bad content good. It makes good better, but if you have a bad television show, prowess at social media isn’t going to help. In fact, it’s probably going to kill you quicker,” McCormack said.