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MTV News Shifts Toward Video, Targets Younger Audience (EXCLUSIVE)

Variety logo Variety 6/28/2017 Daniel Holloway

MTV News is being restructured with an eye toward creating more video and short-form content for a younger audience, Variety has learned.

The move comes seven months after Chris McCarthy was named president of MTV, and on the heels of a reorganization of the network’s linear-programming department. The transition will see resources shift from long-form journalism to the development of short-form video pieces.

Among the most significant changes — MTV has reached an agreement with the Writers Guild of America East to represent MTV News staff members. As part of that agreement, MTV News is parting ways with fewer than a dozen staffers and several freelancers. The news division is in the process of hiring additional personnel to focus on video and short-form content.

Plans to reorganize the news division had been in the works prior to February, when the WGA East notified MTV that it would seek a contract on behalf of MTV News employees. MTV alerted the WGA East prior to beginning negotiations that it had already initiated plans to reorganize the news division. Severance for the departing staff members was negotiated by the WGA East.

MTV News had, since late 2015 and the addition of several writers and editors who had previously worked at the website Grantland, pursued a strategy designed to age up its digital audience. That strategy focused on the sort of long-form journalism that had drawn Grantland a devoted following and praise in media circles, with many article ranging from 4,000 to 6,000 words long.

Former editorial chief Dan Fierman, who had been editorial director at Grantland, departed MTV News in April.

Since 2015, according to network insiders, overall traffic for MTV News’ digital content has declined. According to Omniture, average number of unique views for MTV News editorial content was down 64% for the period of October 2016 to June 2017 versus the period of October 2014 to June 2017 — fiscal 2015, prior to Fierman’s hire, versus the current fiscal year. By the same measure, time spent was down 59%. Traffic for editorial video streams was down 97%.

According to Comscore, engagement time on MTV.com had been on the uptick, from an average 3.6 minutes in November to 4 minutes in February. That number measure all MTV.com content, including but not limited to news.

MTV is one of six “flagship” brands identified in February by Viacom CEO Bob Bakish as the focus of an overhaul of the company’s cable division. McCarthy has worked quickly since adding MTV to a portfolio that already included VH1 and Logo to revamp the channel’s executive team in linear programming and marketing. The rehab effort has included a move away from scripted programming with the cancellation of low-rated series such as “Sweet/Vicious,” “Mary and Jane,” and “Loosely Exactly Nicole” — the latter set to be revived by Facebook as its first original television-style series. MTV has pivoted toward the sort of unscripted shows that had long been staples for the channel with new series “Promposal” and reboots of “My Super Sweet 16” and “Fear Factor.”

In average viewers 18-34, MTV is up 3% in June from the same month last year, according to Nielsen live-plus-same day numbers — the first time the network has experienced year-over-year gains in its target demo since 2011. “Promposal” and “My Super Sweet 16” have significantly outperformed MTV original-series averages among women 18-24 as the network attempt to grow its audience in younger demos.

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