As young people increasingly tune out television and tune into online video and chat, MTV Networks is hoping to win their attention with a new broadband service that appears part MTV, part YouTube and part MySpace.
The service, built around a website called Flux, will be launched in Japan later this year and is likely to follow in other countries, said William Roedy, vice chairman of MTV Networks and president of MTV Networks International, at a news conference in Tokyo.
The planned service is perhaps the clearest indication yet that MTV’s parent company, Viacom International, takes the Internet and the potential threat that it poses to TV viewing seriously.
"While our history has been focused on TV, there is no doubt that our future will belong to digital" and the merger of content with new delivery platforms such as the Internet, Roedy said. "We are no longer a TV-centric company. While we have led in TV over the last 25 years, we are now poised to lead in digital."
Flux, which builds on a more basic MTV website launched in a few countries last year, will attempt to bring together its own content, such as music videos, with user-generated video and social networking features, said Tony Elison, senior vice president and general manager of digital media at Viacom International Japan.
"Users will be able to access MTV Networks programming from anywhere in the world as long as they have an Internet connection," said Elison. "At the same time, users will be able to upload their video. It’s truly user-centric."
The service will be built partly on content from MTV Networks, which in Japan includes material from its trademark music channel and the Nickelodeon kids’ channel. The company offers similar entertainment channels in many other markets. A key feature of the service will be the ability of users to organize their own playlists of content and share them with friends.
For example, a user could program their own video music channel complete with uploaded clips of them introducing the songs. MTV will add commercials between the music videos to fund the service, which will be free.
"By putting the user at the center of the programming experience, we believe users will share their entertainment with one another, and that way users will be able to discover entertainment in completely new ways," said Elison.
Other features will include the ability to jump from a music video to related content, like songs from the same artist or of a similar genre. A cartoon clip from Nickelodeon might be linked to other animated content on the site, for example, including animated music videos or animations uploaded by users.
Besides attracting an audience for advertisers, MTV Networks hopes to benefit in other ways.
"It will eliminate the barriers between professional and consumer-generated content, and that way we’ll be able to discover new creative talent," Elison said.
MTV Networks wouldn’t disclose an exact launch date or say how many people it hopes will sign up for the service.
Flux is being launched in Japan because it was developed by a team in the country, and because Japan has one of the most advanced broadband markets in the world. There were 23.3 million broadband subscribers at the end of March this year, of which 5.5 million were optical fiber connections.
-Martyn Williams, IDG News Service (Tokyo Bureau)