Viacom’s exec VP on why there's still a place for owned platforms in MTV's social mix

This year, the dedicated EMA app gave users access to a 360-degree stream of the show, which was hosted by Rita Ora

Philip O’Ferrall who heads up Viacom Velocity International, the media giant's commercial arm, has talked up the importance for media owners to make sure their own platforms are in the mix if they want to connect with audiences, using MTV’s Europe Music Awards app as an example.

Taking place on Sunday (11 November) the 2017 EMAs were touted as the most digital awards yet, and viewing figures were set to hit record highs with organisers running a Facebook Live stream as well as other initiatives across Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter.

This year, the dedicated EMA app gave users access to a 360-degree stream of the show as well as, for the first time ever, Snapchat-esque AR lenses that correlated with specific performances during the show, which took place on Sunday night (11 November).

Commenting on the prominence of the platform in the event's social media mix, O’Ferrall implied that while it wasn't drawing in the most eyeballs, it was still an essential part of the strategy: "Is it a huge number, is it the golden egg? It’s not, but we have to be there, because if there’s a fanbase that love that then we want to be there."

MTV has a core app where users can catch up on shows the day after they air. While it makes sense for the millennial-focused brand to invest in its own content platforms, given the unique engagement opportunities and data mining, in the UK at least one-third of all internet time is spend on Facebook or Google-owned properties; which is no doubt why MTV takes a multifaceted approach to the flagship event.

Away from its own tech, the network also worked with seven influencers including Geordie Shore's Sophie Kaseai and Brazilian star Bontle Modiselle to build anticipation for the global show, which is showcased in over 170 markets. The celebrities were drafted in to speak to local audiences in their native languages, with each going live on Facebook from the red carpet or backstage.

"It's not just about translating something, because that doesn't work. We have to talk to the audience in the way that they expect to be spoken to in that local market," said O'Ferrall, saying that he believed this is why advertisers – which for the EMAs included Aussies and Coca-Cola – want to work with MTV.

This year, a 50-strong digital taskforce worked to build the show's digital presence backstage. O’Ferrall, who used to head up commercial innovation for Viacom, admitted it wasn't initially an easy road getting the business to become more digitally-focused.

"It's been hard, when I was running digital it wasn't easy. The economics don't work in the first few years but now we've stuck at it and we've got huge audiences, we can deliver huge value for partners, so it works but it was a hard sell. It was hard persuading people."

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Rebecca Stewart

Rebecca Stewart is a reporter at The Drum. Based in London, she writes news, analysis and features around brand marketing and digital innovation. She has interviewed key figures from the likes of Airbnb, Amnesty International, Unilever, Facebook and Spotify, as well as covering international events like Ad Week Europe, Dmexco and Ciclope.

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