A Successful Failure: The MTV Movie Awards

By  · Published on June 7th, 2010

In 1997, Scream won the Best Picture Award. It wasn’t in an alternate universe – as much as the MTV universe can be considered part of our own. The film was awarded the top spot by the fine fans of MTV over Jerry Macguire, The Rock, Independence Day, and Romeo + Juliet.

Even the nominees themselves were a definite middle finger to the artistic establishment who had reserved awards for films with depth. Like Jerry Macguire. The win for the horror flick signaled perhaps the biggest break from convention, and that’s what the MTV Movie Awards stood for. It’s what they were going for.

There’s no point in berating MTV for selling out. At this point, it’s beating the dust where the dead horse used to be. However, Steven Zeitchik (whose name is German for “The Spirit of the Chick”) over at the LA Times has moved beyond the ease of mocking the television station for losing its original soul and taken to mocking it for not being good at its current job.

Zeitchik makes good point after good point about the failure of the MTV Movie Awards in particular when it comes to the commercialization of the industry. The movies pitched on the program last year did mediocre business. The films this year either cater exactly to the audience that would already see them or naturally fail to capture the youth market. If you’re going to sell out, you might as well be good at it.

Essentially, in my mind, it boils down to the fact that people hate scripted award shows. The bane of the award show writers’ existence has been how to make two people at a podium sound interesting, and as MTV has relegated itself to stock introductions and scripted surprises, they have chosen the worst possible launching pad for a sales pitch. Fortunately, that’s not the only space where sales pitches are being vocalized.

The one thing Zeitchik doesn’t mention is what I have to assume is the sole reason for the show’s existence: making money.

In 2007, when the show went live for the first time, Andrew Hampp at Advertising Age wrote a great article entitled “Why Marketers Stand to win Big at MTV Movie Awards,” about what the network was planning to do with the program as far as its money-making potential. Having large brand names sponsor the event – including that years Dirtiest Mouth Award presented by Orbitz gum must be a stronger focus than getting a few movie stars available to push their forthcoming films. That article still remains both relevant and true.

The show may fail some of the films, but despite calling out Twilight and Harry Potter for being shoe-ins with the youth market, there’s some truth to the fact that they reached a few new eyeballs last night or became the topic of conversation around the internet water cooler today. In this day and age, that’s the real victory of any marketing strategy. Especially for a film that’s still four months from hitting theaters. Plus, to call the show a failure would be to assume that it’s meant to be an advertising dream for production companies. This, I think, is a false assumption.

However, it’s not a false assumption to think of it as an advertising dream for pimple creams, phone companies, consumer electronics, and, I have to believe, Tiger Beat magazine. If it still happens to exist.

The MTV Movie Awards might be a maudlin display of unfettered commercialism, but for better or for worse, it still holds the keys to the kingdom when it comes to reaching a young audience that had enough free time to go vote 20 times for Robert Pattinson between sexting sessions and buying apps that their parents don’t understand how to use. It reaches them better than anyone other Awards show on the air, and that kind of access is worth it to advertisers.

Zeitchik is right that the show fails on many levels – especially on levels of respect when you watch Paul Rudd have to pretend he gives a shit about telling 12 year olds about a movie they’ll never see. It also fails simply because it’s lost the spark that it once had. That lack of spark is both perpetuated by studios who want their stars scripted and a direct result of the on-stage advertising failing. In a way, the show is allowing movie producers to shoot themselves in the foot.

Substantively, some of the pitches were necessary evils that studios felt had to happen to at least show a presence. But overall, the real success comes from cross-platforming the television broadcast with facebook, twitter, and the MTV site to get as much traffic as possible and feed an advertising machine that’s built on far more than the films coming out in the next few months.

The real numbers are a mystery until we see some Nielsen for the show’s going head to head with basketball and hockey, and until MTV releases how much each 30 second spot cost, but it’s at least a healthy bet that the show brought in a decent gross.

And even if Dinner For Schmucks fails to get that coveted 12–18 crowd, or any crowd at all, I have a feeling that Paramount will still be calling MTV next year to check on rates and what stars they might be interested in having present some golden popcorn.

So, yes, the show may fail to deliver as much to gossip about the next morning (because it’s trying too hard) but MTV is in the power position and can fail all it wants substantively and still succeed. I’ll also call out Zeitchik and myself for not getting information from the key demographic. Has anyone thought to ask what the local 12 year old thought about Paul Rudd? Probably not. For now, I’ll remain skeptical that the show has failed in the way that Zeitchik perceives.

What do you think?

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