"I want my MTV" was the channel's slogan of choice in the 1980s. Today's iteration would be more akin to "My iPad wants my MTV."
Viacom is rolling out the first of a line of apps to address that new millennium plea. But in keeping with what has become the industry standard when delivering televised content to mobile devices, the majority of show are limited to people who already pay for TV.
Thursday, Viacom is launching a new app for MTV and MTV2 on iPhone and iPad, and plans to roll out similar ones for its other music-related channels -- CMT and VH1 -- and LOGO, its programming for gay audiences. It will also roll out versions for Android and Xbox this year.
The app is meant to take what MTV's WatchWith and VH1's CoStar apps already do -- access video extras, browse photos, answer trivia, and loop in social commentary -- with on-demand streaming of shows on the devices. In other words, it keeps the "second screen" entertainment it offered with past apps but now turns an iPad or iPhone into a "first screen" too.
Users of WatchWith and CoStar will be upgraded into the new apps, and then the old apps will be phased out.
It's a similar tack that other channels have made, like Time Warner's HBO GO that combines on-demand video with interactive bonuses for shows like Game of Thrones.
But Kristin Frank, executive vice president of connected content for Viacom Music and LOGO Group, said in an interview that the MTV app goes further, bringing in social elements as well as experimental series that aren't airing.
"The fact that this is three apps in one, I don't think there's anyone else out there doing that," Frank said.
Current MTV titles will be available, as will selections from its library, like "Daria" and "Beavis and Butt-head." Viacom also using the app to experiment with a new style of content it's calling MTV Other: usually much shorter, much louder, more shareable.
It's bringing MTV into the principle of "TV Everywhere," or the idea that your favorite shows can be accessed from any device at any location. But like many of the television's industry's forays into mobile-device delivery, the MTV app isn't TV Everywhere for everyone. Access to most of the current televised content is restricted to people who also subscribe to a paid TV service.
"We want to bring that value to our distribution partners," Frank said.
Some in the industry are worried on-demand video will undermine advertising revenue from programs run on network or basic cable channels. Service providers worry that the move to online entertainment would discourage consumers from paying extra for cable channels.
Tuesday, reports circulated that companies like Time Warner Cable were providing incentives and threatening punishments for media companies to prevent them from making their content available on web-based services.
On the MTV app, full-length episodes are available to subscribers of a TV service package that includes MTV and/or MTV2 from nine distributors, including DIRECTV and Time Warner Cable. Comcast, the country's No. 1 television distributor by number of subscribers, isn't among them, though Frank said the company is pursuing that in a continuing conversation with distributors.
Not all the content will be behind an authentication wall. MTV said it is aiming to have at least one episode for every show available without authentication, and the MTV Other original content will be free.
MTV has ads lined up, with companies like Pepsi acting as "presenting sponsors," that make the free app a source of some revenue.
The company had also been exploring the idea of a day pass to watch content behind the authentication wall, but it has since jettisoned that idea. A spokesman said the app is meant to support MTVs distributors, not subvert them.
If MTV had followed through on that idea, though, it would have been a vanguard in a direct-to-consumer model for the TV Everywhere idea. Then we might have seen how much nonsubscribers really want their MTV.
Update 7:54 a.m. PT: This story has been updated to reflect MTV's evolving thoughts on the value of a potential day pass for viewers.