Christina Norman, MTV keynote from Forrester Consumer Forum

Christina Norman, MTV – really excellent keynote. Dynamic, engaged – easy to see that MTV gets it. (Of course it isn’t just one person, but she represents well the variety of efforts they have underway).
Christina Norman at Forrester Consumer Forum 2007

At MTV, we’re pretty psched – being our fans BFF has always been important to us as a company.

It’s no accident MTV started as a cable channel – youth were most open to the potential of cable.

Together, we define what MTV is – it is the world’s largest brand gallery.

What we’ve learned: Four Guiding Truths that burn in all of us at MTV

  1. It’s not the medium, but the content that matters most.
  2. Build an emotional relationship with the users based on content they find compelling.
  3. Give your audience a place and mechanism to find each other.
  4. You have to let your audience help you shape your brand.

Message over Medium

Create compelling content, then figure out the best screens and experiences through which to engage users. – 10,000 video library – let users play what they want when they want. It isn’t enough to just play what we want online. Also Rock Band, which will let people engage with music in a new and interactive way – but even this starts with the creative impulse and the emotional connection first, then the technology approach.

Tools make a great experience possible – but you have to have a great idea first. At heart, we’re a company of great ideas.

How do you make it stick?

Start with a foundation of great content – then build an emotional relationship on that content with which users want to engage.

52 bands. What if we took all the time we spend promoting our programming – 11.5 hours every week – and gave it to different artists. So we did. We gave that time to new bands – to connect users to new music and up and coming artists.

In an era in which the music video has become a commodity, 52 bands has been a great way for listeners and bands to find each other.

College students were the first to raise their voices about the genocide in Darfur – the MTVu college network creating programming, PSAs, campus events, and a viral video game.

(Christina masterfully transitions from genocide in Darfur to Jackass via George Bush.)

MTV JackassWorld – coming soon.

Let your consumers speak to each other

Give your audience ways to find each other. – “the largest online activist community ever”

Find others who are passionate about the same things you are.

Also the You-R-Here area on – MTV’s always covered lots of tours, but this year we’re allowing users to help report through You-R-Here.

Help your audience shape our brand

We want our audiences to feel ownership of the experiences we create, the brands around which we collect.

The MTV Tr3s network for hispanic youth in the US, in which the brand itself was created with deep participation with users.

Real World Online Casting site – tapping into people’s connection with the Real World experience.

Choose or Lose and the presidential election – engaging the audience in a new way, with an outlet specifically targeted to their needs.


First, start with great ideas.

Next, add a strong emotional connection.

Let the audience find people like themselves.

Give them ways to let us know what they think – good and bad, and listen to what they say – co-create the brand.


Q: What about the stormy side of the BFF relationship?

A: I’d rather have people be passionate and upset than not carrying. We get lots of positive and negative feedback, but that’s good – we want engagement. It’s ok if people say bad things.

Q: You have the perfect audience who wants to consume, produce, and even be in media – but what if you were in an insurance company, or a paper goods company. Do these principles apply?

A: I think they do. The principles should transfer – it is about putting the audience or consumer at the center of what you do – you’d have different users perhaps, but the point is to focus on the user before the technology and before the tool.

Q: Are the youth audiences of MTV beyond TV, and beyond advertising?

A: Television is important to them, but it is just one of many screens. So advertising has to adopt and change – but that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible. As an example, one of the “remixes” at the VMA was with Herbal Essences and sponsored – that is advertising, but in a different way. The key is an additive experience for the users – not a separate or extraneous piece – but a good show with good content in it. A great piece of entertainment, not an infomercial for Herbal Essences.

Q: Is the MTV brand splintering? How can you cover all these different needs and not lose brand focus?

A: The music industry isn’t splintering – it’s dying, or undergoing an immense change. But the audience isn’t splintering, they want different experiences and we provide multiple different experiences – if you’re giving the audiences what they want you stay relevant. We get lots of criticism on MTV for not showing videos like we did 20 years ago – but you have to evolve and grow as your audience does. Every year new people join the audience and bring new expectations and new experiences – you have to keep in tune with what they are interested in and looking for – that’s what keeps your brand relevant.

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