For this year's award show, which is set to air Sunday, another record level of social engagement is a foregone conclusion for the Viacom youth-culture cable channel. A leader in integrating digital media with traditional televised events, MTV is focusing on the quality of how viewers interact by providing more tools for more dedicated activity -- and tweaking ways to explore the show outside the linear broadcast.
"Yes, there's a huge number of tweets about this show," said Colin Helms, senior vice president of connected content at MTV, said in an interview with CNET. Last year, Trendrr data placed the VMAs on the top of the list of social TV events with more than 19 million mentions. "It's one thing to celebrate 100 million mentions of something, but when there's more of the qualitative aspect, I'd rather have a pure expression of fandom versus somebody who simply tweets with a VMA hastag."
"We've learned what that really means," he said.
What it means is money. Social media interaction is only as valuable as how many people you get to return, he said, and MTV needs to have those return visitors to drive traffic to its properties that make a buck.
This year, the network is replacing its Twitter Tracker, first launched in 2009, with a Social Radar that aggregates mentions from any platform it can access: Twitter, Facebook, Vine, Instagram. The idea is to build on the Twitter Tracker with more than just one platform and to integrate social media that viewers invest more time in -- a fan drawing of Lady Gaga, say -- as well as compiling and highlighting celebrity social-media posts -- think of a Lady Gaga Instagram selfie from her limo approaching the red carpet.
Another example is more emphasis on that viral staple, animated GIFs. MTV is returning with a real-time GIF-It tool that allows fans to generate their own animated GIFs of show moments to share with their social networks. It will also revive The Giffies, an irreverent pseudo award category of animated GIFs created by MTV that users can vote for.
It also debuted nominees for a social-voting category this year, Best Song of the Summer, which counts fan votes across Twitter, Vine and Instagram.
The channel has tweaked its online live feed, as well. An All Access stream begins on Wednesday at 1 p.m. PT / 4 p.m. ET as an all-hours lives tream through the day of the show, available on web, mobile and tablet screens including the recently launched MTV app for iOS and Xbox. The stream will vary between short interviews as hosts grab a few minutes with artists as they arrive to rehearse, music video blocks, roundtable discussions related to the awards, and live performances, among other content.
On the day of the show itself, All Access switches into an audience-controlled show, in which viewers can toggle between 10 different camera feeds -- up from 6 feeds last year -- around the Barclays Center arena in Brooklyn, where the VMAs are taking place.
Helms said it reflects how MTV is lowering the priority of having a straightforward live night of content online alongside the linear broadcast on TV. Viewers want "things that they can easily browse while they're still watching the show, something they can get out in five seconds or less," he said. "Once the show ends, that's when they'll dive in."
Michael Scogin, MTV's vice president of mobile and emerging platforms, said the changes reflect the network's evolution with social media -- and the evolution of social media itself.
"Part of the idea for years...really focused on the social aspect of social media," he said. "Now we're focusing on the media aspect of social media."