MTV Canada’s looking for more ‘real’ stories

According to Brad Schwartz, senior VP of MuchMTV Group, CTV Inc., MTV Canada's new brand strategy is echoing that of its American counterpart by moving away from The Hills-type programming and towards 'real life' stories and situations.
November 23, 2009

According to Brad Schwartz, senior VP of MuchMTV Group, CTV Inc., MTV Canada’s new brand strategy is echoing that of its American counterpart by moving away from The Hills-type programming and towards ‘real life’ stories and situations.

What kind of factual programs work for the MTV Canada audience?

We’ve seen a dramatic switch in the personalities of our target market of young Canadians. Factual programs that had worked for us in the past focused on fantasy and unapproachable activities like My Super Sweet 16 and things that poked fun at people like Punk’d. Those were all massive hits in their heyday, but what we’re finding now with our audience is that this generation of young people right now that has been called Millennials is a very optimistic group; they think they can conquer the world. I think you saw it in spades around [Barack] Obama getting elected, a lot of kids came out. So our factual programming has focused on real stories that our audience can relate to. Instead of the fantasy programming of the past, we’re getting into real and relatable stories of today. Even things like The Hills and The City, which are two of our highest rated programming, [they're] sort of showing this fantasy world, and our audience and our brand filter is moving in a different direction.

[One example of] factual programming that’s worked for us lately [is] a documentary program called Peak Season. It’s a real life documentary story that follows the lives of a group of young Canadians living in Whistler [BC]. These are minimum wage kids, people with real jobs and real relationships and real coming of age stories, warts and all, surrounded by this winter playground. That is currently our biggest hit show on the schedule, bigger than any of our acquisitions. It’s a homegrown Canadian factual program that is the biggest new series premiere ever on MTV.

How much of the channel’s programming is original to MTV Canada and how much is acquired elsewhere?

Seventy percent of our schedule is homegrown and 30% is acquired. And all of our programming is factual, real. Our channel is not allowed to air drama or comedy or anything scripted [according to CRTC regulations].

What advice would you have for producers wanting to work with your channel?

With this new, very aspirational ‘you can do anything’ brand filter that we’re going through right now, we’re always focusing on the traits and personalities of this millennial audience. We’re looking for factual programming that tells stories that they can relate to, [like] Peak Season. These kids are living the same types of lives that a lot of our audience is, it’s not sensationalized or in L.A. with people working for Teen Vogue.

What we’re looking for in a pitch these days is programming that feels very real for our audience. The biggest hit acquisition show that we’ve had this year was 16 and Pregnant. That doesn’t sound like an exciting program, but besides Peak Season, it was our biggest new series hit of the year.

What can we expect from the channel in the future?

The series we’re all ridiculously looking forward to and excited about right now, and what really defines the brand filter that MTV [Canada] is going through, is a show called The Buried Life. It will be premiering on MTV [Canada] in January. It’s an acquisition, an MTV U.S.-produced show, but it’s about four Canadian kids who made a list of the 100 things they want to do before they die. Every episode is them going out and doing these things and crossing things off of their list. This aspirational, ‘you can do anything’-type programming is defined by these kids.

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.