As the “music portion” of SXSW kicks off today — discovering new sounds was the original impetus behind the mostly tech-centric Austin, Tx. event these days — MTV is promoting its latest attempt to recapture its musical roots by launching a new website around indie sounds called The Hive. The site, with its decidedly non-Top 40 interest, will be aimed at the space occupied by Pitchfork Media and music blog aggregator The Hype Machine with the promise of breaking news and original features, interviews, web-only video series, music videos, exclusive performances and eventually, ticket sales and band merchandise.
For the past year, MTV executives have talked about using the web a place where the Viacom (NYSE: VIA) network could return to the stance in inhabited 30 years ago when it first introduced isolated suburban kids to a succession of new wave, metal and hip hop artists that went on to influence the mainstream rather than reflect it at the time.
In the years since, MTV has become mostly known for its array of reality show guilty pleasures like Jersey Shore and Teen Mom or controversial dramatic series like Skins. When MTV has had programming related to music, it’s tended to be related to projects from pop stars like P Diddy or Justin Bieber.
“With MTV.com, we’ve been covering mainstream pop and canvassing the larger segment of overall music fans and [general] listeners,” said Shannon Connolly, MTV VP of Digital Music Strategy. “But what sometimes doesn’t come through is the same feeling of where MTV began: a trusted friend covering cool new music. There are a lot of sites covering the independent music space, but not with the level of scale we have. Plus, another need that The Hive fills is that it’s more celebratory than snark and still much more expansive than, say, a blogger in Brooklyn who only writes about bands with skinny ties. That said, we’ll be aggregating content from those sites and looking for ways to partner as well.”
In terms of the scale, Connolly noted that the MTVMusic.com, which was launched a year and a half ago, has roughly 500,000 users and 100,000 twitter followers without much intensive tending.
The creation of The Hive falls in between to other major indie music projects for MTV. In December, MTV began beta testing its Music Meter indie discovery engine. The site promised as the first of many in the vein uses social media and search to find what sort of artists and songs its audience is talking about-while downplaying perennial trending topics around pop stars like Bieber and Lady Gaga.
The Hive arrives in between the Music Meter and a forthcoming local music/concert-related app and will serve as the hub for other music-related digital content plays. “Think of the products and franchises like MTV Music Meter and Live in NYC as rides, and Hive as the theme park where they will live,” an MTV rep suggested. Furthermore, the The Hive will serve as a showcase for the 30 years of video that the cable channel has built up in its archive.
One of the more interesting things about The Hive and the other online music extensions is that it really is crafted from a separate identity from the entity that runs reality shows, rather than try to find a music home for the club music a Jersey Shore diehard might appreciate.
Given that difference in audience targets, there won’t be any promotions of The Hive integrated into the cable channel’s programming. “Sometimes we’re challenged in the priorities of the MTV music properties, since we do naturally promote the cable programming,” Connolly said. “But in this case, because we’re going after such a different audience than the one that’s primarily related to the TV channel, there’s not going to be much overlap, at least at this stage.”
Ultimately, e-commerce will play a greater role in The Hive, as more artists — especially the indie ones — are taking on more of the business responsibilities that were once the province of the labels. “We’re not going to do e-commerce for the sake of doing e-commerce,” Connolly said. “But by putting more money directly in artists’ hands, as well as continuing to work with the labels, we can strength our ties to the music makers, which will ultimately prove the site’s worth to fans as well as the people working on the music.”