VMAs: Low Numbers and High Engagement
This year’s version of the MTV Video Music Awards was the lowest-rated since 1994, prompting some in-depth questions about MTV and its tenuous grasp on what Millenials and Gen Z-ers actually want from entertainment. The program only brought in 5 million viewers when it originally aired on MTV on Aug. 30th, but the online engagement numbers are a stark contrast to tepid numbers: 21.4 million VMA-related tweets were generated during the telecast.
Why the low viewership yet high engagement numbers? As it turns out, MTV may not understand its user base as effectively as it did in the VMA heyday of Madonna and Britney. Video may have killed the radio star, but will Twitter kill the VMAs?
The real story of the 2015 VMAs wasn’t what Taylor’s squad was wearing, but the number of people who were experiencing the show via second-screen usage. That means that viewers weren’t just watching the TV, but watching TV and engaging with their smartphones concurrently. Second-screen viewership is a new-ish phenomenon that marketers have only dabbled in (think on-screen hashtags during your reality shows or voting for Dorito flavors during the Super Bowl), but the contrast between TV viewers and online engagement is impossible to ignore. It proves that a program doesn’t have to be watched as much as it needs to be talked about–and the second-screen marketing opportunities are endless and still largely untapped.
Viewers vs. Tweeters
At first glance, the numbers tell a clear story: Only 5 million people actually tuned into the MTV VMAs, but over 21 million tweets were generated. That means that Twitter is a more effective platform for the 12 to 34 demographic, right? Unfortunately, it’s not that cut-and-dry. While it’s true that there were quadruple the amount of tweets than there were real-time viewers for the VMAs, those tweets were generated by only 2.2 million individuals. That means each tweeter sent out an average of 9.7 tweets each. Therefore, it’s not a case of more people following along online, but the prolificacy of each online participant. A viewer can only be counted once, while a tweeter can upload musings and interactions several times throughout the program. Because of this discrepancy, it’s important to remember that viewers are more valuable to marketers than tweets; even if they’re a bit old-school. And of course, we can only speculate as to the generational breakdown of who these proliferate Tweeters are: likely not Millenials.
Millenial Generation Gap
MTV came in first in the desired demographic of 12-34-year-old viewers, so it’s unfair to say that they’ve lost their edgy touch with some sort of combination between Millenials and Gen Z-ers. Still, it’s not a complete slam-dunk as far as programming goes. Pre-event promos could have been an issue; when targeting minors, Baby Boomer parental influence is still important and shock jock promos by Miley Cyrus couldn’t have helped the case of a 14-year-old who wanted to watch, nor is she appealing to a 28 year old who has fond memories of old-school MTV (which likely shunned Miley Cyrus-type acts).
Networks and marketers are still trying to feel their way through what may be the largest evolution of entertainment since the birth of color television. Millenials are probably moving on from MTV’s shtick, but is Generation Z even interested in watching TV with all of the social distractions they come with? Hard to say. Maybe Tweets per minute should be a more important metric than TV viewership. Gone are the days when watching a one-dimensional show was enough: Now it’s watching a show, tweeting reactions, and interacting online that networks need to worry about.
In terms of predicting future turnout, it’s probably safe to say that Millenials have moved on, and MTV as well as the broader media will have to get very creative in order to capture Gen Z and friends.