Ownership & Conglomeration:
Like most companies in the television industry, VH1 is part of a larger conglomerate with several layers of control. The channel is operated by the MTV Networks group, which also controls interests in digital media, publishing, home video, radio, recorded music, recreation, licensing, and merchandising. As far as its television holdings, MTV Networks controls many popular basic cable channels, including MTV, VH1, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, Spike, Country Music Television, Logo, and TV Land. All told, MTV Networks consists of over 160 channels worldwide. All of these brands are divided into four categories: MTVN Entertainment Group (targeted at males 18-34), MTVN Kids & Family Group (families and kids 2-17), MTVN Music & Logo Group (men and women 18-34), and MTVN International (a combination of the other three). VH1 falls into the “Music & Logo Group,” and is thus aimed primarily at men and women in the 18-34 (or even 18-49) age bracket.
MTV Networks--and therefore VH1-- is owned by Viacom, a major publicly-traded international media conglomerate based in New York City. Viacom focuses mostly on television and film, and in addition to all of the brands that fall under the MTV Networks umbrella, Viacom also controls BET, Paramount Pictures Corporation, MTV Films, and Nickelodeon Movies. Within the Viacom Corporation VH1 is designed to be “Where music and pop culture live and breathe” .
Partnerships and Initiatives:
VH1 also has specific partnerships designed to increase its profile and popularity. One of the most recent partnerships is the one formed this year (2010) between MTV Networks and Warner Music Group. According to the partnership agreement, “MTV Music Group will now have the exclusive right to sell advertising inventory around WMG premium music video content in the U.S.” This means that, for example, VH1 will get advertising space around Warner Music Group’s videos, and that artists under contract to WMG will be featured on VH1 shows like Behind the Music.
Perhaps one of VH1’s most well-known initiatives is the “Save the Music Foundation.” Created in 1997, the goal of Save the Music is to restore “instrumental music education programs in America’s public schools, and [to raise] awareness about the importance of music as part of a child’s complete education.” The foundation has donated $45 million dollars in musical instruments to elementary and middle schools across the country and utilizes popular musician “Ambassadors” such as Kelly Clarkson, Jason Mraz, and Beyoncé to raise awareness of its cause.
Production, Distribution, & Transmission:
When it comes to production, VH1’s material is sourced from a combination of internal and external agencies, although in the past few years more and more programming has been produced by outside agencies. VH1 Television, VH1’s in-house production and distribution wing, has produced shows like “Famous Crime Scene,” “Confessions of a Teen Idol,” and “New York Goes to Hollywood.” But more famous shows such as “Rock of Love,” “Ray J,” “I Love New York,” “The Surreal Life,” and “Flavor of Love” are all produced by 51 Minds Entertainment, a Los Angeles based production company that has an exclusive agreement with VH1 to create original programming.
VH1 does, however, serve as the distributor for most of its own programming through VH1 Television. Many of the shows produced by outside agencies, for example, are distributed by VH1 itself. Thus “Flavor of Love,” produced by 51 Minds, is distributed by VH1. Occasionally, though, VH1 turns to outside distribution agencies to gain access to other markets: this year when channel called on Passion Distribution, a London based firm, to handle foreign distribution of the show “Dad Camp.”
VH1 is transmitted through many cable and satellite services as part of a basic package. Comcast and Time Warner Cable, two large American cable corporations, both offer VH1 as part of their basic cable lineup. Verizon Fios, a fiber-optic-based transmitter, also provides access to VH1 as part of its “Tier 1 Prime HD” service. DIRECTV, a satellite provider owned by Verizon, offers VH1 in its “Choice” (i.e. most basic) package. VH1 can also be found in DISH Network’s “America’s Top 120” package, the company’s cheapest deal.
As the sister channel of MTV—a music television channel with a younger demographic—VH1 was designed for the same purpose, however, for an older audience. Thus, this explains VH1’s retro, 1970’s themed logo. VH1’s “Gen Mix: The Consumer Report” investigates the factors that influence young adults’ consumption habits. VH1 defines “Gen Mix” as those in between Millenials and Gen Xers or in other words, between ages 24 and 34. The report analyzes the shopping habits of Gen Mixers, their engagement in social networks and digital media, as well as the impact of celebrities and television advertising on their consumption patterns. VH1 takes each factor into consideration in the development of program content. For example, a 2009 report states:
“Gen Mixers love to hear about celebrity mistakes because it helps validate their own mistakes, causing them to feel better about themselves. This is why reality, celebrity TV is still so popular among Gen Mixers.”
Both MTV and VH1 originally played music videos, where MTV targeted a younger audience and VH1 targeted an older audience when it was created in 1985. Later on, in the 1990’s, VH1 attempted to broaden its demographic through the incorporation of rock and hip-hop music into its programming in hopes of attracting a younger audience. In the 2000’s, VH1 aimed for a “pop culture nostalgic” theme and created programming like the I Love the…(Decades), The Greatest…, and 40 Most Awesomely Bad… series. At this time, VH1 dropped its “Music First” slogan and replaced it with “Watch and Discuss,” which conveys the shift in focus away from music. In 2005, VH1 introduced Celebreality shows, which has maintained predominance as VH1’s programming genre to this day. It is to no surprise that Celebreality shows constitutes VH1’s signature programming given that Gen Mixers appreciate the imperfections of celebrities, which—according to Bryan Curtis, a journalist for Slate Magazine—are exemplified by the “has-beens” and “nobodies” in The Surreal Life, and those undergoing emotional breakdowns and weight issues in Breaking Bonaduce and Celebrity Fit Club.
Branding and Advertising Strategies:
VH1 seeks to publicize its name in as many ways possible and thus, employs multiple digital platforms to interact with viewers. By self-promoting through mobile phones, television, and the Internet as well as partnering with various media companies including Microsoft, AOL, Virgin Mobile, and Verizon Wireless, VH1 gains greater access to its audience. VH1’s marketing in online social networks, such as Twitter, Facebook, and foursquare is an example of how VH1 gains both access and the ability to interact with its audience. VH1 also has departments of Wireless Strategy and Operations and Online Games and Operations that are responsible fordeveloping strategies of establishing connections with its viewers. For example, the Vice President of Online Games Strategy and Operations—Dan Hart—is responsible for creating video game multimedia and online games for MTV Network.
Not only does VH1 interact with its audience on television and online, it also reaches its audience through applications and a ringtone service on mobile phones. Giselle Tsirulnik—a reporter for The Mobile Marketer—discusses her interview with John Burry—a CEO of Mobui—in her article “VH1 unites television with mobile.” According to Burry:
"Going mobile is the next step in VH1's 'Watch And Discuss' initiative, enabling their viewers to get even closer and interact with the VH1 brand in more places and with fewer boundaries."
VH1 also engages in a type of branding called “cause branding.” In the article “Cause Branding and Its Impact on Corporate Reputation” by Barkley Evergreen & Partners, cause branding is defined as a:
“365-day-a-year association with a cause via internal and external programs. In the purest form a brand brings its core values to life by supporting a cause or nonprofit partner that embodies those same values. It is a true branding endeavor to align a cause and a brand’s support of that cause in the consumers mind.”
VH1 demonstrates such cause branding through the VH1 Save The Music Foundation. The two missions of VH1 Save The Music Foundation is to:
1. “restore instrumental music education in America’s public schools.”
2. “Raise awareness about the importance of music as a part of a child’s education.”
VH1 identifies with Evergreen’s definition of cause branding because it has been associated with and working with Save the Music 365-days-a-year since 1997.
VH1 is very established digitally. Alongside their website, they have a series of blogs and websites for popular shows, like FlavorOfLoveWorld.com and others (this site no longer exists due to the season’s end). They have blogs and forums running currently, for avid music and television fans to discuss issues and interests online. Besides these websites and blogs, VH1 also has a page on Facebook and also several Twitter accounts for its sister channels as well Eg: VH1 Soul. VH1’s presence in all forms of entertainment makes them well known to the American public.
Top VH1 programs: (not in any particular order, just divided into subgroups)
Flavor of Love – featured Flava Flav: Public Enemy rap star, looking for love. It was like ABC’s ‘The Bachelor’ with a little flavor. (2006-2008; 3 seasons)
Ochocinco: The Ultimate Catch
Rock of Love
I Want to Work For Diddy (2008-2009)
Celebrity Fit Club
For the Love of Ray J - VH1’s biggest hit in 2009
Don’t Forget the Lyrics – new on VH1
Top 20 Countdown
Jump Start – Series of Music videos shown late at night and early in the morning
VH1 also has its Tribute shows that are very popular: Hip Hop Honors and Rock Honors Others/Documentaries
Behind the Music – This is VH1’s claim to fame. It shows the true lives of popular musicians
Saturday Night Live
100 Most Shocking Music Moments
VH1 Classic-sister channel to VH1 and appeals to audiences over the age of 35
VH1 Soul- sister channel to VH1 and appeals to audiences over the age of 35
VH1 Uno – This is the Spanish channel of VH1. Plays hits from very popular Latino artists
VH1 also have other sister channels worldwide. Eg: VH1 Europe, VH1 Brazil etc.
In the past, VH1 was known to cater to audience of 20-35. They were called ‘The MTV for Old people.’ They usually showed more musicians like Anita Baker, Marvin Gaye, Elton John, Tina Turner, Kenny G etc. It was labeled a more urban version of MTV as they played more jazz and R&B. Later on, they switched up their style and became more rock oriented, playing music from Sheryl Crow, Madonna, Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Janet Jackson They switched their style as they refocused on popular culture music that appealed to all kinds of people. Hence this seemed to sway from Pop music, to Hip Hop and now Reality shows.
Behind the Music
Behind the Music is a documentary-style program that explores the lives and careers of popular music artists. It originally ran from 1997 through 2006 before being resurrected for the end of the 2009 season. The series has earned five Emmy nominations since 1997 and has been one of VH1's most iconic shows, remaining "deeply associated with the channel" even while it it was off the air.
VH1 reintroduced the show as a means of appealing to its goal audience, the aforementioned "Gen Mix" consisting of men and women aged 25-34. There was a fear among the channel's executives that they were losing touch with the core audience, and according to executive vice president in charge of original programming Jeff Olde, it came down to "zeroing in on who our audience is, where they are in life and what things are important to them." As a result of this desire to create programming relevant to the core audience's perceived needs, the new BTM exhibits several key differences from the original show. While the older version provided a retrospective and occasionally nostalgic or critical look at artists who were past their prime, in its current iteration BTM focuses on contemporary artists and the issues they face in their lives, the trajectory of which--and thus the resolution of any problems being confronted--are (unlike in an episode on Bob Marley, for example) as yet undetermined. This emphasis on artists who are in the process of figuring out their lives forms the basis of VH1's attempt to appeal to the "Gen Mix." It is important to note that many of the featured artists in the new BTM fall within the age range of the "Gen Mix" and are thus dealing with issues that viewers may be confronting themselves. In the Usher episode (originally aired on 7/20/10) for example, the main focus is on family and relationships as Usher discusses his career and romantic involvements in the context of his struggle to balance his desire for a family--itself a result of his father's absence during his childhood--with his desire to maintain his independence. Thus VH1 creates an appeal to those who may be dealing with similar conflicts in their own lives.
BTM is shot in a documentary style, which underscores for the viewer the truth and importance of what he or she is watching. Combining archival footage depicting the artist's childhood and past performances with contemporary interviews featuring the artist and family members, colleagues, and critics, the show creates an atmosphere of omniscience, implying to the viewer that he or she is learning all there is to know about the featured artist, that he or she is being invited into the life of Usher, Fantasia Barrino, Lil' Wayne, or Jennifer Hudson. In this way BTM is constructed following the same fundamental concept of the "celebreality" shows that VH1 has become known for in the last decade in the sense that it fulfills a desire to gain a window into the lives of the rich and famous. Yet by foregrounding real-life issues rather than outlandish and blatantly artificial scenarios, BTM also invites the viewer to identify with its celebrity characters in a way that a show like "Rock of Love" cannot. Thus by situating its intimate and frank examination of musical performers in the context of the ongoing struggles they face in their lives, BTM can appeal to those who enjoy "celebreality"-type shows, to those whose interests lie in VH1's traditional focus on music, and those who simply want to see depictions of stories they can relate to on a personal level.
BTM is formatted to draw a viewer in from the beginning, as the introductory pre-title sequence gives a brief overview of the episode's main foci, framed in a slightly sensationalized way. The episode featuring Fantasia Barrino (originally aired on 8/25/10) attempts to hook viewers by providing a voiceover narration of her struggles. We hear from the narrator, for example, that "her dramatic rise to fame came against all odds," and that "As a teenager, Fantasia Barrino was raped." These statements will be contextualized later, but presented as they are in the opening, they play on the common trope of rising up through adversity while also drawing from tabloid-style sensationalism, forming an immediate appeal to "celebreality" devotees. Many episodes follow with a glimpse of the artist's current life, through a direct interaction with him or her and/or through an anecdote about a newsworthy recent incident involving the artist. From there the narrative goes back to the artist's early life and returns to the present through the course of the episode, emphasizing the issues presented in the opening as a way to interpret the artist's life and career. Hearing and seeing the artist discussing his or her life while seeing images and footage of that life creates a feeling of intimacy between the viewer and the artist and removes much of the sense of distance often found in traditional documentaries. In its conclusion, BTM episodes prevent the viewer from achieving any sense of finality. In addition to creating a specific appeal to the "Gen Mix," the open-ended nature of the show, in which the featured artist's final path is undetermined, allows the viewer to construct his or her own ideas about what will happen and forces a greater interaction with the program, because there can be no clear resolution.
Since 2005, VH1’s signature programming has concentrated on the Celebreality genre. According to a Viacom News Release, Ben Zurier—a member of VH1’s creative team who specializes in Program Strategy—has significantly contributed to VH1’s connection with the audience through the program block Celebreality Sundays and Mondays. Altogether, the programming developed by VH1’s creative team increased VH1’s primetime ratings by 102% since 2002. VH1’s creative team introduced such successful Celebreality television in response to its audience. Where VH1 has always targeted an older demographic, the channel has attempted to diversify its audience by appealing to the Gen Mix (young adults between the ages of 24-34). At first—according to New York Times journalist Brian Stelter—Celebreality programming consisted of “competitions that feature immodest women, skirt-chasing men and other fame-seekers,” such as Tool Academy and Flavor of Love. This type of show was initially appealing to Gen Mixers because it fostered a feeling of reassurance in their own identity through scrutinizing the imperfections of celebrities. However, within the last year, VH1’s intended purpose for Celebreality programming has shifted its focus to genuine storylines and the truths behind celebrities’ lives. This shift is due to three main causes:
1) Gen Mixers have developed a greater interest in connecting with the lives of celebrities.
2) Critics and advertiser’s disapproval have driven VH1 Executives to diversify the channel’s programming.
3) Ryan Jenkins’s suspected murder of his ex-wife brought a negative reputation to VH1’s reality dating competitions.
One of these genuine shows includes Basketball Wives; there is an uncovering of celebrities’ true character within a storyline of their actual lives, rather than a competition. Under this new focus of Celebreality television, these basketball wives serve as objects of connection, rather than objects of humility and entertainment; however, the underlying purpose of VH1’s Celebreality television has always been to place celebrities in a setting where they are prone to public scrutiny.
Basketball Wives premiered in April 2010 as a first-hand experience of the “glamorous and dramatic” life and the challenges faced as an NBA basketball player’s wife, ex-wife, or girlfriend. According to Jeff Olde—VH1 executive vice president of original programming and production, “The wives of star athletes form one of the most unique and exclusive groups of women in the world.” Not only has the interest in such an original idea motivated the creation of Basketball Wives, but has also prompted the creation of the current Football Wives. Olde also claims that basketball players and their families’ experiences and challenges significantly differ from those of football players and their families. This is mainly due to the fact that basketball players are on the road much more than football players. Between the original content and family separation, there is a greater appeal to the audience and thus, higher ratings for the show. This is proven by the 1.6 million viewers who watched the premiere of Basketball Wives and the overall .78 rating with viewers between the ages 18-49. According to Pulse—Viacom’s investor publication—VH1 was the second most-watched network on cable television during the second quarter of 2010 due to the Urban Sunday Night block. As a result, an increase in the appeal to advertise on VH1 contributed to Viacom’s rise in profits during the second quarter of 2010.
Episode 3 of the first season of Basketball Wives is an example of the challenges these wives and girlfriends face when their husbands and boyfriends are traveling on the road. Two of the featured basketball wives on the show, Evelyn Lozada and Jennifer Williams, visit Gloria Govan and her fiancé Matt Barnes in Orlando for dinner. When a conversation about the recent scandals of Tiger Woods is started, Matt avoids the topic of professional athletes cheating on their wives with phrases like, “I think he’s a hell of a golfer,” “I mean I kind of stay out of people’s business, you know what I mean?” and “Everyone makes mistakes.” Because of these statements as well as asking Evelyn and Jennifer to “not corrupt Gloria,” his fiancé—Evelyn and Jennifer are curious of what he is hiding. Later on in the episode when the group goes to a party at Ochocinco’s house, Jennifer confronts an alleged groupie named Sandra who has been trying to talk to both Jennifer and Shaunie’s husbands. During the dispute, Sandra tells Jennifer that she was not the only girl who her husband had been trying to talk to. Jennifer’s strong disposition conveyed her confidence in her husband and her marriage. As a viewer, this is an intriguing aspect of the show: How can the wives of professional basketball players be so confident in their husbands with all of the rumors and gossip that circulates within their daily lives?
Availability of Online Programming:
VH1 makes most of its original programming available on its website. A bar on the top of the screen invites viewers to “Watch Video” and a drop-down menu divides available programming into full episodes, music videos, and Movies/Trailers, with the option also of searching through all video content on the site. There is a vast selection of television programs to choose from: viewers can watch episodes of current shows like Behind the Music or select episodes from shows that have been off the air for several seasons, like Breaking Bonaduce and The Pickup Artist.
It is also possible to find full episodes of VH1 television shows through the individual pages created for each program. On the page for Behind the Music (constructed in the same way as the page for each VH1 show), a menu on the left-hand side of the screen allows viewers to choose from full episodes, show clips, bonus clips, episode summaries, photos, the show’s blog, and the show’s fan message board. An “Upcoming Airings” feature on the left side of the page reminds viewers that the show can also be seen on television, providing the dates and times of the next airing of the program, along with a link to a full programming schedule for any day of the user’s choice (within a two-week range). In this way, VH1 attempts to draw potential viewers back its television channel.
Explicit advertising is minimal on the website’s various pages, and often involves fast food restaurants like McDonald’s, products like deodorant, or upcoming movies and/or concerts. Despite its infrequent appearance, third party advertising on the VH1 website must fit within strict guidelines laid out by the channel. Banner ads, for example, have to be in a certain size range, must have user-initiated rather than automatic audio, and cannot expand unless allowed by VH1 (on a case-by-case basis). VH1 thus controls the way in which visitors to its website interact with third-party advertising.
The program content available on the website follows the Hulu model of short advertising breaks within each episode. The previously explored BTM episode on Usher, for example, begins with an advertisement for the film Paranormal Activity 2. At the 11-minute mark, there is another advertisement for Paranormal Activity 2, followed by ads for Pantene hair conditioner and Stolichnaya Vodka. In total there are five such advertising breaks within the episode. It is important to note that the advertisements within each episode change over time: the commercials referenced in this section (written in November of 2010) are not the same ones that appeared during our initial viewing of the Usher episode (October 2010). In other words, advertisements within the program change to remain relevant over time.
Convergence and the Broader Place in the Industrial Profile:
This inter-media convergence began in earnest at the beginning of the 21st Century, when MTV Networks realized the potential value of a strong online media presence as a way to draw viewers closer to its brands. According to then-vice president of programming and production Sarah Cohen, the websites for MTVN channels can function as an “original programming destination rather than only…as an extension of promotions or marketing.” The VH1 website, then, can serve as an attraction in its own right by providing a range of features unavailable on television, like cast biographies or bonus clips, “expand[ing] the content appearing on other screens and the meaning of the brand as a whole.” Having a website filled with unique content thus provides a way for VH1 to both expand its brand awareness beyond its television audience and also to expand its meaning and value for those who already watch its television programming.
At the same time, however, there was an awareness among those at MTVN that websites could also serve to turn viewers “back around” and increase viewership of the associated television channel. As a result of this website-television channel loop that is intended to increase the brand’s overall presence and awareness, most of the content on VH1’s website serves as an advertisement for the VH1 brand, and much of it encourages the online viewer to go to the television channel. The official VH1 website’s main page (Accessed November 17th, 2010) displays, for example, an ad for Bret Michaels: Life As I Know It with the subscript “Every Monday 10/9C,” while a box in the middle-right of the screen informs visitors of VH1’s primetime programming block for the current day. Both of these features encourage online viewers to turn towards the television channel by offering new programming unavailable on the website. As previously mentioned, much of the content on VH1.com serves as an advertisement for the brand as a whole, and many links takes the user to something explicitly connected to the VH1 brand. Clicking on one of “Today’s Top Music Videos,” for instance, takes the user to a page within the VH1 site that plays the video, identifying VH1 as the venue in which to interact with that video, song, and artist.
The pages for VH1’s shows invite fans to interact with their favorite programs, offering links to discussion forums, the main VH1 blog and the blog for the specific program, as well as links to VH1’s Facebook and Twitter pages and an email alert page. All of these links ask fans to take an active role in their viewership by enjoining them to “Cast Your Vote!” (VH1 Reality Rocks Awards) or “Fan Us on Facebook!” In this way the website implies that a meaningful interaction with the channel and its contents is possible for fans.
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