Inside the giant factory of cool known as MTV headquarters, a crew of hip twentysomethings has been hard at work creating a two-headed monster.
This beast wants to be man’s new best friend. On Sunday, during the Super Bowl halftime, MTV2 is relaunching with a new focus on 12-24 year-old guys — and a new logo.
This silhouette of a dog with two heads (you may have seen the intentionally vague posters) is at the center of the new MTV2. The revamped network will maintain most of its current music programming, bonded with swirling graphics and constant injections of randomness.
For this purpose, a B-movie horror film archive has been raided. Film has been shot of pigeons with bling, gossiping. In one promo, a girl twisting her hair says, “Let’s kiss. Oh, wait. I forgot. You’re ugly.”
This is not your father’s MTV ... or maybe it is.
“What MTV2 is, while a departure from MTV, is really harkening back to the early days of MTV,” says Tina Exarhos, executive vice president of marketing.
Since its beginning in 1981, when it famously began broadcasting with the single “Video Killed the Radio Star,” MTV has morphed from heavy video rotation and shows like “Headbanger’s Ball” to a steady diet of shows like “The Real World” and “Newlyweds.” Today, it’s no secret that there is much less “music” to its TV.
MTV2 was created in 1996 to fill that video void. Now reaching an estimated 50 million homes (mostly by digital cable and satellite), MTV2 hopes its newest incarnation will create a unique identity.
“We used to be simply a music complement to MTV. Now we’re a real business,” said David Cohn, general manager of MTV2. “We had to change and evolve.”
While MTV2 does have new programs like “Video Mods,” a show where video game characters replace artists in their music videos, it’s clear MTV2 is aiming for a new kind of television experience.
The network recognizes that their young-guy demographic are, as Cohn says, “operating on multiple platforms” — not just television, but the Web and video games — sometimes simultaneously. For example, after the show “Discover & Download” premiered with the Senegal-born R&B singer Akon, thousands of downloads immediately followed.
But do internet downloads translate into TV ratings?
“Success on album sales and downloads create buzz in the artist community,” says Cohn. “We want to build credible programs. We’re establishing relationships with artists for the long haul.”
The channel is renewing a tradition of unveiling a new video every Tuesday, and running it at least 16 times that day. The first premiere will be Green Day’s next single.
“We want Green Day to be a kind of house band for MTV2, the way people feel about MTV being the Eminem Network,” says Tom Calderon, executive vice president of talent and music.
That means an MTV institution — the VJ — may soon go missing from MTV2. Its current resident VJs are Jim Shearer and Amanda Diva, but their roles are being re-examined.
So ... will it work?
Sarah Lewitinn, an associate editor at Spin magazine, hopes the answer is yes. “Shows like ’The O.C.’ have proved that kids are into indie rock music, if you want to call it that,” she said. “Kids are more into career-type artists and very interested in music not in the mainstream.”
There’s also a new challenger in music television. While media company Viacom owns MTV, MTV2, VH1, VH1 Classic, BET and Country Music Television, Fuse (previously Much Music) entered the fray in 2003 with a focus on “music all the time” and a studio just 14 blocks south of MTV’s.
The whole grand experiment kicks off during Sunday’s halftime, when both MTV and MTV2 will air a preview. The made-over channel will then launch at midnight. And on Monday, for half an hour, all the jumbotrons in Times Square will be taken over by the two-headed dog.
MTV’s art department was muted chaos in preparation: “We normally have like ten spots going. Right now, we have 140,” art director Lena Beug said.
Will Internet teases, school bus demolitions and a new logo all add up to a new identity? MTV does seem to be hotwired into America’s youth — even if Cohn is uncertain about their logo’s species.
“We’re not even sure it’s a dog,” he said.