MTV launched as a cable TV channel in 1981, a year when ‘social networking' meant beer and nibbles. And 26 years later, the channel's age is beginning to show.
Put bluntly, when your key demographic is 16 to 24-year-olds, seeing in a quarter century must make you feel like a vicar at the church hall disco.
Last week, in a bid to present itself as more creative and nimble, MTV Networks UK & Ireland overhauled the way it communicates, introducing four agencies to its first-ever roster.
Consolidated Communications and Resonate have joined retained shops Firefly Communications and Taylor Herring, with briefs to deliver 'integrated, 360-degree campaigns' to that youthful target audience (PRWeek, 16 March).
The need to woo the younger generation is clear. MTV's first avid fans, the much-vaunted ‘MTV generation', are now in their forties. And in a market where cultural cachet is important, MTV's parent Viacom was seen by some analysts as having missed a trick in failing to buy MySpace - which was snapped up instead by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.
MTV Networks in the US only hired its first president of global digital media last November, but it is all too aware of how damaging these internet upstarts can be. This month, Viacom presented YouTube owner Google with a party-pooping £517m lawsuit for alleged copyright infringement.
MTV may have been one of the first brands to enter super-cool online universe Second Life, but it is still in danger of appearing to be the grouchy old man in the corner.
To combat such negative perceptions, Firefly will work with the broadcaster to boost the profile of digital offerings such as MTV's own ‘me-too' networking channel Flux, and broadband video outlet Overdrive.
‘It has been accused of not pioneering in the digital arena, but in fact has a lot going on there,' says agency MD Mark Mellor. ‘MTV is the master of short programming, the visual equivalent of the soundbite.'
MTV vice-president of corporate comms Sao Bui-Van says regular research on its young users help the broadcaster to keep pace with them. ‘Kids migrate from platform to platform but we tailor make mobile content,' he adds.
But Bui-Van knows there is not just online competition to worry about: MTV's mix of music, reality and lifestyle, comedy (Paramount) and kids' (Nickelodeon) output could easily be swamped by UK rivals such as Sky One, BBC Three, E4 and Emap's suite of channels.
However, many big brands still see MTV's appeal. Adidas worked closely with MTV on its ‘+10' football promotion last year, and senior PR manager Jon Deacon says: ‘We view MTV as an extremely influential youth channel across various media platforms.'
Nike recently partnered with MTV in the US on the 25th anniversary of its Air Force 1 trainer, organising a televised celebratory bash with hip-hop stars such as Rakim and Kanye West. Charlie Brooks, head of PR at Nike UK, sees MTV as a useful conduit to a hard-to-reach audience.
‘We have a fairly close editorial relationship with the broadcaster, as you would expect,' he says. ‘MTV Base is a fantastic way of reaching a young urban audience in the UK. The channel is authentic enough to keep that "street" feel while being mainstream enough to attract the R'n'B crowd.'
This is music to the ears of MTV's Bui-Van. In addition to ramping up comms on its TV, website and mobile platforms, he also wants to position the network as a business making a significant contribution to the UK's creative industries.
It is an intriguing move: all ‘youth' brands have to deal with ageing, but MTV seems to be trying to do so gracefully. It was lead sponsor at the influential Oxford Media Convention in January and is taking its first steps into lobbying, giving rise to the quirky prospect of an MTV stand at the political party conferences this autumn.
But MTV is not a total novice at Westminster - it has already partnered with the Department for Transport on road-safety work.
A force for good?
Ian Hagg, director of public and corporate affairs at Consolidated, says: ‘An interesting angle would be what MTV can do to engage young people [in politics]. Politicians would lap it up.'
Green issues are also potential fits with the brand. And Bui-Van knows that the regulatory - as well as broadcast - landscape is changing. When it comes to public health, for example, measures such as Ofcom's rules on the TV advertising of junk food to children have already had an impact. On Nickelodeon UK, there is an under-nines ad ban, and from January 2008 this will extend to output targeted at under-16s.
So, MTV is being forced to adapt. But - unlike poodle-haired stadium rockers such as Van Halen, with whom MTV was once synonymous - the broadcaster is not completely irrelevant today. Far from it - Viacom's cable networks division, in which MTV is pre-eminent, accounted for £1bn of the group's £1.9bn turnover in its most recent quarterly results.
All of which suggests that MTV, like another of its '80s stars, Madonna, is highly skilled in the art of reinvention.
WHO SHOULD PROs CONTACT AT MTV?
CONSUMER - MUSIC
Zoe Stafford Consumer comms manager, T 020 7284 7654 or E email@example.com
Reeta Bhatiani Nickelodeon UK director of comms, T 020 7462 1113 or E firstname.lastname@example.org
Zoe Diver Paramount Comedy press officer, T 020 7478 5328 or E email@example.com
CONSUMER - ENTERTAINMENT
Mandy Hershon Senior comms manager, T 020 7284 6376 or E firstname.lastname@example.org
MTV Networks UK & Ireland comprises 17 TV channels, 16 websites and four ‘mobile channels’. It is the second biggest channel package on Sky.