MTV's Global Reach Gets Ever Longer: Forever-Young Channel Speaks to a Generation

Article excerpt

MTV Mandarin? The global village has become hip, indeed.

MTV is now seen in 79 countries, all day, every day. The total audience is headed toward 300 million, composed of those who want a frenetic fix of music videos, cartoons, old TV shows and cheeky chat.

The young and restless are the target audience. And they've gotten a bum rap as far as MTV Chairman Tom Freston can tell. Earlier this week, he braved the hauteur of Washington journalism with a speech extolling the virtues of Generation X - also known, he said, as the baby busters, the twentynothings and the echo boom.

"There are just too many negative misconceptions about them," Mr. Freston added by phone from New York. "We want to tell who they are, and back it up with our own research."

But he's knows that one day, even the Gen-Xers will age. MTV, in contrast, will remain forever young.

"To grow older with our audience would be a mistake," he said.

To stay vibrant, not to mention profitable, MTV will tailor its programming to the "energy of pop culture and youth," wherever that may be.

Defining that culture is a never-ending quest. MTV, which went on the air in 1981, has raised the market study to a fine art, gleaning information about its viewers from continual polls and focus groups.

"We hang out with them, listen to their CDs, look in their closets," Mr. Freston said. "It's about getting into their heads. We live or die by their loyalty."

That loyalty now comes in many flavors and age groups.

The basic MTV network has branched off into nine international channels - including MTV Mandarin, MTV Australia and MTV India. Nickelodeon, geared to children up to 11, has five international channels, not to mention two separate channels featuring old TV reruns and "retromercials" - old commercials.

For relics over 25 there's VH1, which throws in oldie-but-goodie videos from the network's early days.

The just-launched M2 channel should cover everybody else. This "free-form music format" includes a wide swath of pop acts - no classic, gospel or country, though - and interactive programming.

MTV, in turn, says it's loyal to its audience. Mr. Freston described every conceivable trait of the MTV viewer. They are anything, he said, "but a bunch of slackers. …