Friday, June 12, 2009

MTV Widens Its Net : The network aims to turn a British model into a Web star

Wall Street Journal

Teens have been fleeing television for the Web. MTV is betting that British TV host Alexa Chung, a 25-year-old former model, will help bring young viewers back to the tube.

MTV is positioning “It’s On with Alexa Chung,” a live on-air music show, as the heir to “Total Request Live,” a long-running show that ended last year. Her new program will run weekdays at noon starting June 15. “I’m used to being on the hangover slot,” says Ms. Chung, who typically appeared on Saturday during the day on the U.K.’s Channel 4.

The star of MTV’s coming Web-driven music show “It’s On with Alexa Chung.”

To try to make Ms. Chung a star in the U.S., MTV plans to make her show a mash-up of television and Web content. The show will draw some of its material from social-networking sites like Facebook and video-sharing sites like YouTube. The show’s executive producer Corin Nelson says “It’s On” will do things like have celebrities turn the text of some viewers’ Facebook profiles into songs and stream in questions from viewers via Twitter.

“We just really want to make sure there aren’t a lot of layers of filters so people feel like they’re part of the audience. They want immediate information, and that affects the show,” says Ms. Nelson.

“It’s On” is part of a larger trend of bringing more Web content onto traditional networks like MTV. This month, G4 launched “Web Soup,” a spinoff of the popular E! video-clip show “Talk Soup,” just days after Comedy Central started “Tosh.0,” helmed by comic Daniel Tosh. Both shows feature viral videos and Web content.

Raised in a small village in England in the county of Hampshire, Ms. Chung started modeling when she was 16 years old. Displeased with the loneliness and isolation of a modeling career, she nabbed a slot hosting the music show “Pop World” on Channel 4 and presented for shows on BBC and ITV. Ms. Chung has won fans for her breezy on-camera style.

Last fall, Tony DiSanto, head of programming at MTV, was passed a tape of Ms. Chung’s performances and called her in for a meeting in his office in Times Square.

Amidst the movie paraphernalia that dots Mr. DiSanto’s office, Ms. Chung homed in on a single item: a box set of MTV’s popular teen reality drama “The Hills.” Mr. DiSanto was sold on her point of view. “I knew we had a unique voice,” says Mr. DiSanto.

Although she has been featured in British tabloids and fashion magazines, Ms. Chung isn’t very well-known on the Web. Her personal Web site doesn’t get much traffic, according to ComScore, and Ms. Chung has around 18,000 followers on Twitter, a healthy number for most people but far fewer than many other TV hosts.

MTV hopes that television will propel her to stardom online. Ms. Chung says that her online presence isn’t the chief reason that she was hired. “It’s quite the opposite,” she says. “It just so happened that they knew about my Twitter page.”

Pulling content from the Web for a TV broadcast like Ms. Chung’s new show can create problems. It can be difficult to get legal clearance to air some music clips and images. Such issues have been stumbling blocks for other Web-based shows.

For example, if a YouTube video features music playing in the background, the network airing the clip might have to pay for its use—or face a legal challenge.

At “It’s On,” several people on the staff will monitor and approve tweets before they hit the airwaves to ensure that no inappropriate content sneaks through and makes its way on to the television broadcast. Ms. Chung says she hopes the process will help her show bring in a wide range of material.


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