MTV’s "Virtual” madness… how long can it last?

NEW YORK–It already has one of the most valuable brand names in television. Now MTV is hoping it can repeat that success as a marketing leader in virtual worlds.That was the cable giant’s message during a three-part keynote address Wednesday morning at the Virtual Worlds 2007 conference here.

The company is calling its new cross-platform strategy “4D.” Essentially, the approach will attempt to combine content from MTV Networks’ television shows with fully 3D virtual worlds and then put it all through a feedback loop in which people can interact with TV personalities and create content that becomes part of the shared experience.

Virtual Laguna Beach “We really believe that this is going to profoundly change the ways that brands like MTV interact with their audience,” said Matt Bostwick, senior vice president for franchise development at MTV Networks’ Music Group. “There’s no tight storyline you’re following. It’s an open experience.”Already, MTV has launched two branded virtual worlds, Virtual Laguna Beach and Virtual Hills. These take the story lines of hit shows Laguna Beach and The Hills, respectively, and weave them into a large, public 3D digital environment in which users can meet the shows’ stars, or “live” the lifestyles of the programs.

Now, MTV is preparing to unveil Virtual Pimp My Ride, a virtual-world version of another of the network’s hit shows.

In addition, he explained that the designers of Virtual Laguna Beach had built in a Pepsi-branded “skills ladder” system in which users had to complete a series of tasks, each of which earned them “Pepsi
points.”

“They became status symbols,” Bostwick said. “You couldn’t buy them. You had to earn them.”

And lest anyone argue that users of virtual worlds don’t want to be marketed to, especially not by major real-world brands, he pointed out that one out of three Virtual Laguna Beach
users had interacted with some form of Pepsi-branded content. There have even been active forum discussions in which users asked others how to get ahold of that content, he said.

Ultimately, MTV and other media companies at the conference are banking on an explosion of interest in the medium to drive a corresponding surge in ad dollars.

To juice it up, MTV is focusing intently on how to bring more of its content into virtual worlds, making it one of the leading media companies in the space.

For example, Bostwick explained how a cast member from one of the network’s shows could do a live TV event, then go straight in-world to interact with avatars. Later, he suggested, users might be able to
create video content in-world that could make its way back onto TV.

“We really feel like this programming bridge between TV and virtual is really important, particularly for taking mainstream users into this context,” Bostwick said. “But the link to TV is the starting point, not the ending point. We really think where the fourth dimension comes in, where TV leaves off, is the people.

Traditional chat rooms and social-networking sites feel so yesterday when you come into a
virtual world.”

MTV goes ‘4D’ with virtual-worlds push | CNET News.com

Okay. I’m not a psychologist. I’m not a phd in behavioral studies. All I know is– I’ve worked with kids of ALL ages for roughly 15+ years now. And I’ve been a early-adapter as well as dealt with these issues/behaviors first-hand online, as well as had many conversations with teens about such things. Here are my two cents about this “virtual world” obsession MTV currently has…

I would LOVE to know what their age demographics are… because I’m willing to bet that most of their VW demographics are based around the 13, 14, 15 year old age group– and if they’re higher than that… my best is that those kids are lying.

What 16 year old with a drivers license & two years left until ADULTHOOD (freedom of college) and the opportunity to talk IRL with their friend is going to subject themselves to “online friendships”?! Sure they’re on myspace & bebo & friendster & facebook— but they’re in myspace/bebo/facebook for three main reasons: 1: “Look at me, look at us, look at me,” and 2. “I’m looking at you so that you look at me”/”I’m looking at you to see if you’ve said anything about me,” 3. “I’m looking at you to remind myself how glad I am to be me”/”I’m looking at you to remind myself how much I wish I were you” — these are all things based upon the peer pressure surrounding kids who are trying to be unique & independent, while remaining in control of their “cool” factor.

There is a certain amount of secret-friend-stalking involved with social networking sites that aren’t virtual worlds. Virtual worlds are real time… not so easy to quietly check on friends/boyfriends/girlfriends. Not very good for anonymous-lurking.

My guess is that the “i wish i were older” late tween/early teens (mature-ish tweens/freshman/some sophomores) are the MTV kids currently getting involved with Laguna & the Hills VW. Why? Because MTv’s target viewers –the late teens/college kids– are FAR too busy creating REAL social lives. Do they really want to sit and wander around in their “hot bikinis” in the “virtual hot tub”? Sure, sounds like they might… but most kids that age are pre-college students and that means activities up the wazooooo (sports, term papers, driving recklessly, making out, amnesty international, detention, pep rallies, clubs, music, etc). College students are also uber-busy. They’ve got their time filled with partying/studying/living the life. Why would they want to sit around and talk to high school kids about a silly TV show? Their sense of “self importance” is very high.

What enabled teen wants to go to a pretend world… make their faces/bodies look however they want, make strange friends & snog someone virtually? Well, in my experience these are the early teens who are too old to have Barbie & Ken love-drama, too young to go to “Make out point” with their crush, and too stuck-at-home to be able to find their IRL friends and hang. It’s these kids who typically wish they were someone else, or older… prettier… mature.

And if that isn’t the truth, I’m guessing that in a year it will be this way. Virtual Worlds are a sign of the future– and relatively “buzz worthy” new. So upper teens could be logged into VW today– trying to see if they can talk to the stars of TV shows (brushes with fame are always exciting)… but tomorrow? Yeah… doubt it. “That’s so yesterday.”

The minute you “pinpoint” a teen is the minute BEFORE they change their mind. Everything “popular” is fluid. That’s why MTV has lasted as long as it has– they continually change things up… morph into something else. I would be wary of telling the world that “teens want this!” because that’s a bold statement to make with emotionally-growing/unstable teens who are just trying to figure themselves out WITHOUT an adult telling them who they are.

These virtual worlds offer personal escapism… a change to be someone else (as I’ve already mentioned). By making a virtual “you” you’re making a choice to show the world how you see yourself.

  • Avatars that are anime show the anime-you… it’s a cartoon innocent version (it’s based around a story/fantasy created by someone else that has no direct reflection of your IRL choices). Anime is also a genre– so teens into anime are already defined in public circles as artsy/Sci-if/etc
  • Avatars in games (like WOW) are based around a game-perception of you… it’s a competitive/not serious version of how you want to win a game (not who you think you are).

When it comes to the slightly forbidden topics for teens (sex, alcohol, drugs, etc), kids get a little bit more literal. Teens are still balancing between what their parents told them were right/wrong and what they need to do to thrive in high school. For example: You are 17, you’ve never really “drank” before, and you’re trying to balance between “is it right? is it wrong?” …Your best friend cracks open a beer in front of you– deep down you label your friend as a drinker. As long as she did it in front of you… you can accept this fate. If she did it at a party you did not attend, but you heard about it… accepting the fate is a little harder. (Are you being left behind? Should you have a beer now so that you don’t feel left out? Is she cool now? Are you still cool too? Do you feel betrayed? <– uber-confusion) A lot of these questions don’t have to be said, but no doubt they’re in the subconscious somewhere.

  • If you show yourself in a virtual world based around YOU (not a game, not cartoons, but high school students/etc) and you make yourself a sexed-up Barbie-wannabe… that makes a statement. Kids that know each other in real life can meet and think: “That girl is a slut” or “That girl wishes she were that cute” or “Oh my god, that guy is so delusional” etc, etc. Kids that don’t know each other and meet are playing a little game of “who do I wish I was” …That can be fun and liberating, but I doubt anyone would tell their friends to come join them in playing online pretend… especially if you’re visually representing yourself as something FAR different than how you appear.

Perhaps these Virtual worlds are perfect for an audience that spends a lot of time at home– young latch keys, or socially awkward teens that enjoy the escapism, or teens looking to be BFF with the stars, or perhaps teens not looking to go to college but still find the opportunity to reach out beyond the walls that bind them, into the world, and discover new relationships elsewhere (pretend or not).

Ah well… that’s my 2 cents ramble. Anyone agree/disagree/have a completely different take on this? I love new opinions!!! Bring ’em on! 🙂

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  1. April 3, 2007 at 11:26 am

    Wow! That’s great. Virtual World is amazing.

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