MTV’s digital head talks VH1 Celebrity Party and the network’s rocking mobile strategy

Aug 26, 2011
Tech

As one of the most iconic entertainment brands of the last half century, MTV Networks is not missing a beat expanding into the realm of mobile media. The company this week debuted VH1 Celebrity Party, a social, charades-style game where players guess the name of the celebrity based on verbal clues and physical gestures. As […]

As one of the most iconic entertainment brands of the last half century, MTV Networks is not missing a beat expanding into the realm of mobile media.

The company this week debuted VH1 Celebrity Party, a social, charades-style game where players guess the name of the celebrity based on verbal clues and physical gestures. As Appolicious Advisor Kathryn Swartz explains in her review: “The app is well-designed, and at only a buck (and assuming you can find three others to participate) should provide at least one night of entertaining play.”

In this edition of Meet the Makers, we check in with MTV and VH1’s General Manager of Digital Kristen Frank to discuss the company’s suite of applications for iOS and Android devices, how she defines a return on investment today and moving forward, and the creative ways her builds applications to complement over-the-air programming.

Appolicious: Tell us about your new app VH1 Celebrity Party. Who is your target market and how does this fit within VH1’s overall programming initiatives?

Kristin Frank: VH1 Celebrity Party is our new iPhone app that celebrates pop culture; allowing fans to compete with one another to test their knowledge of celebrity culture, music, movies and television.

Based on the well-known party game, Celebrity, we think the app will appeal strongly to pop culture enthusiasts of all ages and that it fits nicely within VH1’s overall strategy to connect fans with the music, artists and pop culture personalities and moments that matter most to them. It’s unique in that it’s an app that facilitates a game that can only be played in groups. We’ve added some cool rewards by supplying themed packs of celebs, multi-device support via Bluetooth so that each clue-giver can user their own iOS device and receive video rewards from celebs.

Our audiences want to consume and interact with our content across multiple screens, and apps have become an important part of this comprehensive content offering. It’s all about ubiquity. With this in mind, when it comes to apps, our job is to make it a seamless transition.

APPO: How large is the mobile team within MTV Music Group, and how do you view mobile relative to your entire offerings?

KF: We’ve strategically designed the team to be multi-platform, as opposed to working in silos of mobile and online.

With this in mind, mobile is integrated into everything we do.

MTV and VH1’s core mobile team evaluates everything from long term strategy, long and short-term product development, editorial/programming strategy, and how this fits in to being cross platform.

APPO: Celebrity Party is 99 cents to download. (there is also a free version) How else do you make money and/or drive value from your mobile applications?

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KF: Mobile apps not only provide new revenue generating opportunities through sponsorships and purchase points, but more importantly, present new and exciting ways for consumers to experience and interact with the MTV and VH1 brands. Each of our apps are designed to amplify and offer an additive experiences to our popular shows and franchises like MTV News, I Love The 80s, and Jersey Shore. This type of engagement also serves an important marketing function for the brands and their various franchises.

We monetize through paid apps, run-of-site inventory throughout free apps and larger custom sponsorships of specific apps. We’re always looking for new and creative ways to collaborate with our ad partners to bring them into our app experiences.

APPO: Most of your apps are available for both iOS and Android platforms. Tell us about the development challenges and opportunities creating apps for each platform?

KF: Historically, we’ve done more iOS development simply due to the maturity of the iTunes App Store. However, that’s quickly changing and we now look at Android as an equally important distribution partner.

While challenges mostly revolve around the cost and speed to market and to develop for both platforms simultaneously, in many ways, iOS is easier to develop for since there are fewer versions of the operating system.

The challenge with Android development is fragmentation. Considering there are many more versions of the operating systems and more device/screen sizes, you have to make more of a conscious decisions about the app design. That being said, the huge rise in Android adoption requires this to be something that is considering from the start of the project and delivered on.

In the near term, we are excited to develop more HTML5 and JavaScript based apps that can be more easily deployed across platforms.

APPO: How do your marketing approaches differ on iOS and Android?

KF: Our strategy is simple – be where our audience is. With this in mind, we’re launching apps and touch screen optimized products that build off popular MTV and VH1 brands across the board- including smartphones, tablets, and connected TVs, and designing them with the end goal of having users return to the app on a regular basis. Our popular music discovery tool and buzz meter, MTV Music Meter, is an example of a product that’s available on multiple screens- web, smartphones, tablets, connected TVs.

We’ve purposely designed the meter experience to amplify the main features of each platform. For example, the connected TV experience is more lean back focusing on the music video features, while the iPhone app is more of a lean forward, search based experience.

APPO: After the initial publicity launch, what do you do to drive downloads over time?

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KF: We view apps as long-term platform investments, as opposed to short term marketing initiatives. With this in mind, we’re designing our apps with the end goal of having users return on a regular basis.

We realize that most apps in the marketplace have a very short shelf life and that most apps are only opened a handful of times and then either completely forgotten or deleted. We’re combating this by creating reasons and motivations for fans to return.

At MTV and VH1, we have the benefit of tapping our multiple screens (on air, online and mobile) to continually market these products to our audience. In order to maintain interest, we listen to our audience and regularly update with new features and content. One example to point out is our frequently updated MTV News app. It’s now closing in on nearly 2 million downloads across iPhone, iPad and Android.

APPO: Can you tell us about upcoming titles or updates in the works?

We’ve recently released two second screen co-viewing experiences. On the VH1 side, our Co-Star viewing app on iPad curates the social conversation around our shows like Basketball Wives. MTV recently launched its own co-viewing second screen experience called WatchWith, as both an desktop and iPad app. We’re set to launch an iTunes version of the app in the coming weeks.

Both products allows fans to connect with and interact with cast members (including showcase in comments from the show’s cast members), and features a custom filter that displays the best and most “liked” comments. Since we know the arc of the storyline, we’re able to serve up relevant content in real time. For instance- during Teen Wolf- if we introduce a new character, we can post content to provide fans additional information about the character and the actor. In the coming months, we’ll be launching a game changing cross screen ad tool that will integrate our partners into these second screen experiences in a non obtrusive and complimentary way.

In addition to our second screen experience, in the coming months, we’ll debut a comprehensive VH1 music app, as well as releasing major refreshs of our MTV News and MTV Music Meter apps.

APPO: From your vantage point as a digital executive, share with us what three trends or aspects of the mobile media space are keeping you up at night.

KF: Three things come to mind:

1) Being able to monetize mobile in a strategic way that warrants continued investment as its importance/relevance grows greater in the minds of consumers each day.

2) Fighting through the clutter to differentiate our products from others.

3) Listening to our audience to continually update our products to encourage long term usage

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Brad Spirrison

Brad Spirrison is the managing editor of appoLearning and Appolicious Inc. In this capacity, he has sampled and evaluated thousands of iOS and Android applications. He also holds an M.A. in Education and Media Ecology from New York University.

Spirrison worked in concert with appoLearning Expert and Instructional Technology Specialist Leslie Morris while curating and evaluating educational applications.

A longtime media and technology commentator and executive, Spirrison is also a regular contributor to ABC News, The Huffington Post, TechCrunch, Bloomberg West and The Christopher Gabriel Program.

Spirrison is married and lives with his wife and young son in Chicago. As his son was born just weeks before the debut of the iPad, Spirrison takes his work home with him and regularly samples and enjoys a variety of educational applications for young children.

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