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How to Fix MTV's VMAs.
BizBash | Industry Interview|June 05, 2008
Since the MTV Video Music Awards debuted in 1984—with Madonna writhing in a wedding dress—they have become a highlight of the network’s programming, providing some iconic performances and an end-of-summer gauge of the pop-culture barometer. The VMAs attracted as many as 12 million viewers as recently as 2002, its largest audience ever.
But ratings have mostly fallen each year since, down to a low of fewer than six million viewers in 2006, despite efforts to juice the excitement level by moving the proceedings from their traditional home in New York to Miami in 2004 and 2005. (The show has also made eight stops in Los Angeles over the years.) Last year’s stint in Las Vegas, with its highly buzzed-about performance by a dazed-looking Britney Spears, brought ratings up slightly, to seven million, but news coverage and online commentary focused on production misfires, awkward pacing, and underwhelming performances.
So how can the VMAs redeem themselves? We asked a group of busy planners and industry insiders (some of whom have worked with the network in the past) for their suggestions.
(Note: Our experts offered these tips before we reported that MTV is expected to take the VMAs to the Shrine Auditorium Los Angeles September 7.)
Where should MTV hold the VMAs?
“It’s tricky. The current traveling nature of the show seems pretty smart because it fits with [the touring nature of] the music industry. But you’ve got a television award show format, which is the antithesis of the industry and the demographic they’re trying to cater to. Maybe it should be more of a concert event, like Lollapalooza. Make it something that isn’t just for V.I.P.s and the A-list. Reinvent the idea of a live award show by letting the demographic you’re trying to reach actually go. I would find it more compelling if it were outside and accessible to the masses that listen to pop music. If it’s in the L.A. Coliseum, that can fit 100,000 people—it can be like a Live Aid concert.
“It all goes back to the heart and soul of a live rock ’n’ roll show, which is all about a spectacle. There’s nothing spectacular about a three-hour-long televised award show. What MTV did in Las Vegas, with the performances in suites and small clubs, must have been great for the people in those rooms, but for the televised audience, it was just bad execution.
“Expand the performances and contract the speeches. Make the driving force of the show this huge concert, and intersperse it with awards and speeches. Make the lineup a surprise, but cater it somewhat to the awards that are being given out. Look at all the trouble the record industry has been having—what a live event like that could do is knock a lot of birds with one stone.”
—Michael Brown, creative director, Lot 71, New York