Music to our ears

Music to our ears

October 31, 2009 21:59
bhavneet singh

bhavneet singh. (photo credit: )

I want my MTV. How quaint that slogan sounds today, almost 30 years after it became the calling cry of the fledgling innovative music video channel that has revolutionized how we hear - and see - music. Today, MTV is far more than a music channel - it's a huge corporation owning dozens of entertainment networks including Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and VH1. And even the MTV channel is not really a channel - it's a whole world. There are over 50 distinct MTVs around the globe, including places you wouldn't necessarily expect young people to be shaking their booties - like MTV Latvia, MTV Poland and MTV Arabia, serving the Arab world. Last week, MTV Europe's Managing Director and Executive Vice President Bhavneet Singh was in town for talks with the company's partner in Israel - Ananey Communications, one of the country's leading cable channel developers. And on top of the agenda was the imminent launch of a television version of MTV Israel - two years after the unveiling of, an Internet-only localized version of MTV. "We had never created an MTV web site without having a channel to go with it," explained the 35-year-old Singh, sitting in Ananey's Ramat Hayahal offices with its CEO Udi Meron. "It came about because Udi and Ananey came to us with the idea, having done the research. And clearly, the logic seemed very compelling. Technology-wise, you guys are like the South Korea of this part of the world, in terms of your broadband penetration and your consumption of media. You're known as a people and culture of being ahead of the game - whether it's ICQ or any number of new tech companies coming out of here. "That was one of the reasons giving us the confidence to say, hey, this is a nice way to do this. And this is also an extension of what we are known for." The MTV Israel free-on-demand web site features many of the staples located on the MTV Europe TV channel that cable subscribers can view, like The Hills, Cribs and Pimp My Ride, as well as local programming like celebrity news show Mehadura. According to Meron, an Israeli TV pioneer who founded the Kids Channel back in the early days of cable TV, the popularity of the site has convinced Singh and his colleagues that the time is ripe for a Sabra MTV music channel. "The proof of its success is that we are now looking at the next step. The ultimate goal is a full MTV Israel channel," said Meron. "Everyone finds their own balance - we want to add of course the element of Israeli music and Israeli lifestyle. For Israel it's very important, internally and externally, because one of the things we want to do is make MTV Israel a window to the world, and to the MTV network." While Israelis like Becky Griffin, Eden Harel and Jason Danino-Holt have served as MTV Europe VJs, and on November 5th in Berlin, Ninet Tayeb will represent Israel at the MTV television network's Europe Music Awards, Meron sees a unique opportunity in MTV Israel for the country's virtues to be exported to youth around the world. While neither Singh or Meron would commit to a target date for the channel's launch, Sing said that it would "be sooner than later." IN HIS position, Singh is responsible for the management and direction of one of the company's largest regions, spanning Central and Eastern Europe, Russia, the Middle East and Africa. Based in London, but spending much of his time on the road, his role includes a specific focus on developing and establishing MTV's portfolio of entertainment brands across multiple media platforms, including broadband, mobile and online. "I saw MTV International for the first time in the mid-1990s when it started broadcasting in India where I was raised," said Singh. "Then in the late 1990s, they launched the Indian channel. I remember going and seeing Slash from Guns & Roses there. It was really cool." Rather than coming from a music background, Singh arrived at his job via the media, having previously held senior positions at the Discovery Channel in Asia, Manchester United PLC, and IMG TWI in New Delhi, before moving to London to work for Viacom, MTV's parent company. "I'm a big rock fan - I guess I'm more into the VH1 type of music; I'm more into classic rock like Pink Floyd. But having that passion for music helps make my job a lot more fun," he said. Despite the vast region he's responsible for, Singh cites Israel as an extremely important market for MTV's channels - and as an innovative source of content. "The creativity coming out of here gives us reason to be confident and do more with Israel," said Singh. "I just saw an animation show this morning [Krembos] created by Ananey for Nickelodon Israel that I want to take to some of the other Nickelodeon markets we manage in Europe, the Middle East and Africa." "Similarly, Ananey has already produced a show for us - Switched On, focusing on music and technology subculture - that has been broadcast on MTV Europe across 25 different countries. It gives us confidence that Ananey understands and in some ways excels in creating really good, compelling entertainment that is relevant to our brands, whether they be Nickelodeon or MTV." In addition, Singh singled out Ananey's skill at addressing new media platforms instead of traditional TV. "Engaging viewers in a non-linear world is a far different skill set than creating linear content. Ananey has done that very well for us, whether it be packaging VOD programs, mobile distribution or the experience," he said. With that across-the-board penetration, Singh confidently stated that MTV's brand was the preeminent kids media destination in Israel, boasting top-rated shows like Sponge Bob, and Dora the Explorer. And he'd like to see more channels, like an introduction of an Israeli Nickelodeon channel and a Comedy Central channel. "We'd like to get the entire Viacom portfolio on the air here, to the extent that they're relevant," said Singh. "MTV, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central are our three main brands - I would definitely like to have localized versions of those on the air in this market - as quickly as Udi can pull them off." IF ANYONE can do it, it's Meron and Ananey, who have created successful pay channels on HOT and YES for food, health, travel and lifestyle, including the Food Channel, the Health Channel and Ego. As someone who was part of the massive transition in Israel from a one-channel town to a global remote control, Meron has found positive results in the proliferation of our TV culture. "I remember the argument by Prof. Elihu Katz, who helped found Israel Television, that having more than one channel would diffuse the national agenda - people would no longer have the common experience of watching the news or the same programs together," said Meron. "But there are other benefits. I just had a discussion with someone over why Israeli movies are now being recognized internationally and winning awards. Do you know why? Those kids who grew up on cable TV watching MTV in the 1990s are now the directors of these films. It was a different language that they were exposed to than previous generations who were only watching Channel 1. It's been a huge revolution." And both Meron and Singh say that it's far from over. "MTV, today, has gotten to where it was meant to be at the beginning - the preeminent youth destination," said Sing. "I think if you look at overall consumption of media, it's gone up, not down. People spend more time consuming media today than they did when I was growing up. But now, it's more using media on the go. People are more demanding about what they watch. We were placid viewers once, now we're active users." According to Meron, the soon to be established MTV Israel will cater to the demands of viewers to be part of the process, with music being only an element of the channel's offerings. "For a long time on MTV, there's been a search for the right formula - a mix between music, and programming. MTV used to be one of the only sources of new music; now it's not," said Meron Singh concluded that the future is going to be all about engagement. "How to make everyone feel that they're involved enough, that you're listening to them and talking about their issues and do so in ways that they like to consume it - that's going to be the key. The kind of platform it is - whether it's mobile, or Internet, VOD, or a channel - doesn't really matter at all."

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