How MTV Turns a TV Show Into an Online Event

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For awards shows, MTV’s (s VIA.B) VMAs and Movie Awards often have very little to do with artistic achievement. It’s really more about the spectacle. And we all know the web loves a good spectacle.

Following last weekend’s installment of the MTV Movie Awards, MTV.com had 13.1 million video streams on Monday. That was up 165 percent from day-after viewing in 2008. Some 71 percent of MTV.com’s 3.3 million Monday visitors watched video from the show.

MTV can place some pretty good bets on what will draw attention to its semi-annual glitzy freak fests. For instance, it got Britney Spears, at the height of her meltdown in 2007, to perform at the VMAs, and Sunday it enabled a skimpily dressed Sasha Baron Cohen to descend from the ceiling onto Eminem’s lap at the Movie Awards.

Clips of those moments have been incredibly viral, and through a combination of offering its own easily shareable embeddable player and aggressively taking down unauthorized copies, MTV has been able to keep most of the online views and ad dollars from the show for itself. A video of the Bruno/Eminem interaction posted Monday has been viewed nearly 2.5 million times, 1.9 million of them on the first day. Watchers wondered whether Eminem had been fully informed of the prank in advance; MTV’s official response is watch the clip and judge for yourself.

The day after Britney’s historic VMAs in 2007 still stands as MTV.com’s top traffic day ever — helped in large part by another clip, one of Tommy Lee and Kid Rock fighting. The altercation wasn’t part of the program or of the original broadcast, but since MTV had cameras trained on its attendees it was able to release exclusive online footage. It was even more popular than Britney’s bomb, according to Colin Helms, MTV VP of digital programming, who spoke with us about the network’s online strategy this week. MTV.com had 2.6 million visitors that Sunday, and 7 million video streams by midday Monday.

Building off 2007, MTV puts a serious amount of effort into driving traffic to its site around these tent-pole events, said Helms. They do their best to plant potential “viral moments” in the show — like hiring SNL Digital Short king Andy Samberg as host — but it’s not all hoping and praying. Beginning Thursday before the show, the site posts behind-the-scenes video, as well as text content that’s search engine-optimized to bring potential viewers in. At that point it’s a recruitment effort, building hype for the televised main event.

Then, as the stars arrive, MTV posts red carpet coverage online, this time with a new Flash App called Fashion 360 that gives a Matrix-like shot by combining shots from 48 cameras.

There’s no live-stream yet, but immediately following the show the web staff pulls an all-nighter posting the full show and dividing it into clips. The Bruno/Eminem bit was up by 2 a.m. ET, Helms said. Throughout the next days, they keep tabs on Google (s GOOG) and Twitter trends, adding moments that turn out to attract attention unexpectedly. For instance, this year Twilight star Kristen Stewart dropped her gold popcorn statuette after accepting it for best female performance. The moment was minor in the broadcast, said Helms, but very buzzy for Twilight fans, who comprise a huge contingent of MTV’s audience, he said.

In fact, a trailer for the new Twilight movie, New Moon, is the second-most popular excerpt from Sunday’s show, with more than 1.9 million views and 1,400 comments.

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Chris

Poor Eminem. I don’t want to have Sasha’s ass in my face too. But for other people it’s funny.

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