I want my MTV

The popular American music channel tries out an interactive Hebrew Web site featuring TV shows, video clips and social networking.

mtv israel 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
mtv israel 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
MTV Networks advanced its trademark brand in the fast-growing world of Web video recently when it launched MTV in Hebrew. Network executives at Viacom made the move to introduce the Israeli version of one of their most widely known television brands entirely on-line. From the looks of things, they're quite happy with their results. "The uptake of the service has been exceptional; it has exceeded all of our expectations," said Bhavneet Singh, the executive vice president of MTV Networks International's Emerging Markets Group. The Web site features Israeli-produced original content in the form of news articles, TV programs and music videos, intertwined with other MTV content from the US and across the globe. The site's main attraction is a flashy new Web video player dubbed "TVBox." The player broadcasts the site's video content in a widescreen format with sharp resolution and low buffering time. Its user-friendliness distinguishes the player from the countless Web video player alternatives currently available on the Net, and is arguably even better than the player available on MTV's North American site. On the far left of the page is a playlist where users can drag and drop their own selections of music videos or TV clips, thereby customizing hours of video-play time right on their computer screens. Produced by the small Israeli startup Tvinci, the player ties into the site's social networking feature as well, with users able to upload their own video content and view playlists recommended by their on-line friends. THE DYNAMIC TVBox player is representative of what MTV had hoped to achieve with its in launch in Israel. "We are a content company, not a technology company," Singh said. "We look for the best ways of making our content available to the audience. In the case of MTV.co.il, the end user is in control and can consume our content how they want and when they want." Singh said that Israel was an ideal place to try out the innovative new Web platform. "Our strategy for Israel was to launch on-line, ahead of using a more traditional broadcast platform. We hope it will be a successful premium service that we can soon look to replicate in other territories," Singh said. Elad Sonego, the Web site's chief editor, said that while the site launched its beta version in October and its official launch was in late March, more content was still being added from Israel and overseas. "Every day we launch a little bit more," Sonego said. MTV's Israeli programming includes Hamahadura, an Israeli version of MTV News, and Lukach Goes to Eat, a hysterical series of comedy sketches featuring an overweight rapper going out to review restaurants. These original series are aired alongside episodes of MTV's Punk'd, The Hills, Beavis and Butthead and other American shows. The MTV Israel site features a group of young and engaging hosts, the majority of whom have no prior television experience. The cast of eight ranges in age from 19 to 24 and hails from all corners of Israel. After an extensive audition process, those finalists selected were mainly students or young professionals connected to news, music or fashion industries. Three of the hosts - Dana, Niran and Noa - head the MTV news team from inside the studio and on location. Yonatan, a fixture on the Israeli party circuit, covers the site's interviews with artists. Bitania, MTV's first Ethiopian host, heads a segment on Israel's hip hop, R&B and soul music scene. Shem hosts a similar show on the alternative music scene and Lior and Joy cover fashion in Israel by inviting models and designers to the studio and attending local fashion events. SONEGO, WHO formerly worked in the Israeli music industry managing popular bands, has been instrumental in developing the presence of local artists on the site's social network. He said the site was even superior to MySpace for young artists hoping to exhibit their music. "As a social network, it gives you better technology, better options to show your videos and to get comments about your music," Sonego said. "You can communicate better with your audience." While mainstream social networking sites have gained widespread influence with their large numbers of registered users, Sonego said that MTV's Israeli site had one thing those sites did not. "Facebook and MySpace created mass hysteria in Israel, and yet we like to use Hebrew, so it's doing really well with the young people," Sonego said. Ohad Bolotin, MTV Israel's manager, said that while the site has been developed and maintained by Israelis, its goal has been to retain MTV's trademark style."It was really important to us to keep the MTV style, its concept and all that MTV represents," Bolotin said.