The media may have considered the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards a disappointment after ratings continued to decline since peaking in 2012, but former MTV president Van Toffler believes the mark the Miley Cyrus-hosted event left on both social and traditional media the following day proves otherwise.
“There is a complete disconnect between measurement and consumption,” Toffler told moderator Jason Hirschhorn on Tuesday at The Grill, TheWrap’s sixth annual Media Leadership Conference.
Despite being broadcast on an additional six channels owned by parent company Viacom, the unpredictable award show attracted 500,000 less viewers than 2014. On MTV alone, the VMAs were watched by 5.03 million the night they aired, which was 39 percent decline from last year’s 8.3 million single-channel total. Toffler argued that while they may not have been tuning in, millions were consuming the action on social media.
And he’s not wrong. Twitter announced that the show was “the most Tweeted program since Nielsen Social began tracking Twitter TV activity.” The social media platform also said that 2.2 million people sent 21.4 million tweets about the show the night it aired.
While industry news outlets, including TheWrap, were quick to publish articles about the ratings decline the very next morning, Toffler recalled telling one reporter, “It’s 12 hours later and based on every news outlet talking about Miley Cyrus and Justin [Bieber] crying, I am certain that we consumed much more this year than last.”
According to Toffler, social media plays a huge role in an audience’s habits, and traditional cable TV viewing isn’t the only way audiences engage with programs and events anymore. This is why he is reevaluating the way he wants to distribute content in the future.
Toffler is preparing to launch a new media company since leaving his post at Viacom in April, and believes storytelling should be tailored to specific video platforms like Snapchat, YouTube or Vine — none of which are too small to launch an IP that might eventually make it to the big screen.
“A story can be told in 30 seconds, or it can be told … in 30 minutes, maybe its a movie length,” he said. “I want to have the freedom to put the content on the right platform. People aren’t going to watch 90-minute movies on YouTube.”
The realization that different stories can be told on different platforms made Toffler reevaluate two projects he had developed at MTV: “Jackass” and “Napoleon Dynamite.”
“If I were to do ‘Jackass’ and ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ today, I would probably see that character as a 30-second bit on Snapchat, and then I’d gauge the audiences response and make it into long form,” he said. “Seed it, and put it out into the world.”
If Michael Bay, David Fincher and Spike Jones — some of the biggest filmmakers working today — all started their careers directing music videos and commercials, Toffler believes these emerging social media platforms are where the next batch of celebrated filmmakers are lurking.