Inside MTV’s international app strategy

For Viacom, youth media brands like MTV and Nickelodeon are a core part of its business. But it knows kids aren’t glued to the TV schedule any more. Viacom’s response? A new suite of mobile apps.

MTV is launching two new products for the European market at the beginning of March. MTV Play is the first: a video app which will house its TV shows like “Geordie Shore” and “Catfish” for on-demand streaming. An “industry first” tie-in with startup Vigour lets this app flick content from the smartphone to any other connected screen, and back. The app is priced at €2.99 ($3.40) a month.

The second product, MTV Trax, puts Viacom in competition with Spotify in the U.K. This audio app solves two problems: too much choice, and the issue of limited mobile data plans. In terms of choice, MTV’s research says most users don’t actually want to have to sort though a vast music library. They just want hits. The app will offer users a curated list of the hottest 100 tracks in music that day. And with a daily update streamed over Wi-Fi to enable offline listening, MTV Trax prevents users from spending too much on mobile data.

The move comes at a time when Viacom is starting to feel the effects of changing habits. In the U.S., it is seeing declining TV ratings among younger viewers. MTV in the U.K., however, is doing rather well, but that might not always be the case. More than two-fifths (41 percent) of 16-24-year-olds regularly watch TV shows on smartphone, according to recent research by MTV’s international parent company, Viacom International Media Networks. The company said “the majority” of online engagement with the MTV brand was now coming through mobile devices, hence its focus on producing new products for users to enjoy.

“Young people still want long-form content and mostly on big screens, whether it’s linear or OTT,” said Oliver Nitz, SVPSVP of mobile brand licensing at Viacom. “That’s not something that’s frightening us though. This product has come at the right time and will help us stay the forefront of changing media habits.”

Viacom knows it’s hard to get people to download apps. It’s experimenting with some direct-to-consumer distribution in the U.K., but it expects the majority of its downloads to come through wireless providers. It’s planning to pitch carriers to license their brand and offer pre-installed MTV apps. In Germany, Switzerland and Romania, users can subscribe to MTV Mobile through a provider like AT&T or Sprint, giving users access to over 1,500 hours of video via MTV Play. The company has one deal to distribute MTV Trax in New Zealand and is hoping for more deals to come through.

The partnerships make sense for telecom companies, which need to differentiate their plans through content and other services. They can no longer stand out by selling an extra gigabyte of data a little cheaper than the next company.

“We’re able to show Net Promoter Scores increase by 50 percent and show reduced customer churn for MTV Mobile users,” Nitz said. “That’s attractive in a saturated, highly competitive market.”

Carriers are a popular distribution method for apps, particularly in the U.K. Both Spotify and Sky have deals in place with Vodafone to get their apps into the hands of its customers. MTV arguably lacks the depth of content offered by those companies, meaning it could have a tougher time convincing carriers to sign up. But one analyst says Viacom’s app strategy has some promise.

“More and more content owners understand that they need to be present where young viewers are, on smartphones, and in this case Viacom has taken an interesting approach, said Eva Knoll, digital video analyst at Enders Analysis.

“The technology within the app, unlike some, allows users to both discover content on their smartphone and then send it to their smart TV. Here, Viacom appears to have spotted an opportunity to bridge short-form content, which has been very successful on smartphones, and long-form content, which has been less successful on smartphones so far.”

Image courtesy of Jaguar PS /

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