MTV celebrates its 30th birthday this week.
My, how time has changed it.
At three decades strong, the network has morphed from must-watch music television to 24/7 reality TV. The evolution from “Unplugged” to “Teen Mom” has worked ratings-wise, with the network pulling in its highest numbers ever, but along the way, MTV the has lost some of its “cool” and its “edge,” the things that keep a younger audience coming back.
"I wish there was more variety, because I don’t care about 16 year olds and their children,” 13-year old Daisy Noe told FOX411. Noe says she still loves MTV but is weary of such a heavy focus on shows that are pregnancy-centric.
She says they’re gross.
So how does a fan love MTV, but not its shows? Simple: she turns to MTV.com, which allows her to watch select programming on demand, and even keep up with the musical artists the network was founded to promote.
According to Dermot McCormack, head of digital for MTV Music Group, the website has even working to brought back a version of "Unplugged," its classic program showcasing top rock bands in acoustic settings, online. The new "Unplugged" premieres online, and then eventually works its way onto the network's multiple cable channels.
“We think music lives in the digital space. We believe digital can move beyond the core demographic,” McCormack said. “Digital is complimentary to the television audience, but will grow beyond it.”
The network’s strategy to operate across multiple platforms -- television, digital and social -- is also a way for them to stay relevant with a teen audience that doesn’t watch television the way it was watched in 1982.
To some extent it is working. The kids today don’t consume their programming in front of the television alone. They not only watch shows online, but on the go on their mobile devices.
“Online gives me more of a choice of what I want to see. You can go directly to what you want at any time and you don’t have to wait. We’re all busy and staying up on the latest content isn’t easy, but MTV online makes it a lot easier,” says 16-year old professional race car driver Zach Veach, who is on the road the majority of the year.
In terms of content, MTV’s television strategy differs greatly from the mix it puts on it’s website.
On television, the network has seemed intent on finding racier and more offensive fare that will draw in an audience of adults who enjoy watching the antics of twenty-somethings and teenagers. Among the offerings are the reality shows “Teen Mom,” “Sixteen and Pregnant,” and “The Jersey Shore.” The network’s recent attempt at scripted drama, the erotically charged “Skins,” saw a drop off of 50 percent in ratings from its premiere to its second week after accusations that the show contained what amounted to child pornography.
The median age of the television viewer is 23 in primetime and 22 during daytime hours according to Brad Adgate, the director of research at Horizon Media Inc. While there isn’t an exact measurement of the age of the online audience, experts estimate that the median age falls at least three years lower.
“I think programming on MTV is one of the toughest jobs on television. The core viewer changes from year to year and trying to be relevant to them is a hit or miss proposition," Adgate told Fox411. "Right now the cable network is riding a crest of the wave driven by 'Jersey Shore,' but a few years ago, MTV’s programming was not as topical, and the result is lower ratings and lower ad revenue."
“The Jersey Shore,” which brought in 8.4 million viewers for last season’s premiere, is expected to do even better when it premieres tonight for the current season’s jaunt to Italy. But keeping those television viewers will depend on MTV developing a new must-watch prime time show after the tan has faded from the “Shore” cast.
Meanwhile, those who long for the MTV of 30 years ago, had best look to MTV.com.