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MTV Revives Golden Oldies as `Unplugged' Returns as Web Program

Viacom Inc.’s MTV is considering producing new Internet versions of “120 Minutes” and other classic TV shows from the network’s past after testing the idea with “Unplugged,” a program on the air since 1990.

“The Internet is providing us with a similar opportunity to what happened at MTV in its early days,” said Van Toffler, president of MTV Networks Music & Logo Group. “We can really shine a light on the subversive subculture of music.”

The aim is to let fans interact with artists. The popularity of “Unplugged” waned in the late 1990s and MTV has produced a limited number of episodes for cable each year since then, Toffler said in a telephone interview from the network’s New York headquarters. A revival started online in 2009 and won a daytime Emmy for innovative programming this year.

Toffler aims to convince Prince and George Jones to perform on “Unplugged” to build online viewing. In the original series, artists often performed acoustic versions of songs before 100 or fewer fans. On the Web, MTV plans to harness social media as it did this year using Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. to boost the Video Music Awards audience by 27 percent.

Eight episodes of “Unplugged” have been ordered for next year for both broadcast and the Web: three for MTV, three for sister channel VH1 and two for CMT, also part of Viacom’s cable group. Originally a rock show, “Unplugged” had been adapted for the VH1, CMT and Palladia networks.

‘Yo! MTV’

The heavy metal “Headbangers Ball” and “Yo! MTV Raps” are also under consideration for a Web revival, Toffler said. Such shows would provide on-demand material and be inexpensive to produce, he said.

MTV already airs live performances online and plans to webcast a concert by the rock band My Chemical Romance this month, Toffler said.

The network would like to get Kanye West, Radiohead, Beyonce and Kings of Leon to perform on “Unplugged,” said Amy Doyle, head of music and talent.

Starting next year, viewers can watch “Unplugged” shows with friends at Web pages sponsored by Starburst candy, said Chris Ficarra, who oversees marketing for MTV’s websites.

There’s a chance Internet fans will be able to influence the artists’ set lists, Doyle said in an interview.

“We want to expand on the social media aspect,” Doyle said. “2011 will be the year we bring in the next innovation and iteration of ‘Unplugged,’ and push the show out further and allow fans to engage in a bigger way.”

A similar Web formula would apply to “120 Minutes,” a show about lesser-known acts that ended in 2000, where programs would start online and spread to TV, Toffler said.

Viacom, controlled by Chairman Sumner Redstone, gained 23 cents to $38.99 at 4:15 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The Class B shares have gained 31 percent this year.

To contact the reporters on this story: Andy Fixmer in Los Angeles at afixmer@bloomberg.net;

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Anthony Palazzo at apalazzo@bloomberg.net;

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