MTV Europe Mobile Moves Into Social TV With Digital Agency AKQA

Viacom’s MTV is making one more move into trying to capture the youth market on the platform where it’s increasingly spending most of its time: the broadcaster, in partnership with digital agency AKQA, has launched “Under The Thumb,” a new social TV app.

MTV and Viacom are calling this a “world first” in that it will let users watch MTV content on mobile devices, share it on the go with others, and then watch those on-demand programs simultaneously with those friends. It builds on a pretty extensive business that MTV has already established in Europe, including its own mobile service.

The service, developed by Viacom International Media Networks and AKQA in Viacom’s European HQ in Berlin, is available today as an Android and iOS app. It will initially be available for free, and ad-funded in Europe, but it will also introduce paid sections with premium content. MTV says it currently has some 2.7 million users of its mobile products across seven countries in the region.

“This is designed as a platform for the future,” said Ben Jones, European director of technology at AKQA, who points to the fact that young “millennial” users are no longer watching much traditional TV, but they are watching TV content on a number of other screens like PCs, tablets and handsets. (Update: MTV Europe has contacted us to say that their research indicates otherwise: “Millennials watch content on TV as well as second screens, not instead of. Everything MTV does leads back to linear television.”)

There is some interesting integration that MTV and AKQA are putting into the app to bridge the mobile experience with what they are doing on their computers. That speaks to the idea of multitasking and viewing content on more than one screen. The “co-viewing” feature, as MTV and AKQA calls it, will let users not only watch the content on both on its mobile and PC devices, but users will also be able to tap friends and watch the same on-demand content simultaneously.

MTV is integrating the app with Facebook to connect into the service, but interestingly it hasn’t chosen to use Facebook for the messaging system: it has created its own chatting service for the service so that they come in as real time, without interference from other services that might be part of a person’s Facebook stream.

MTV is also putting in its newsstream into the service, which runs entertainment news from the company’s site.

“I know of another large broadcaster that has claimed to want to do this in the past but has not been able to, otherwise it’s a world first,” said Jones.

MTV said that the main part of the service ‘Tiny Thumb’ which offers celebrity news and MTV highlights, as a limited selection of episodes to watch, will be free to use. ‘Super Thumb’ unlocks further shows, seasons and content to subscribers on a monthly basis for €2.99, and those who pay up €29.99 annually will have access to everything — that content is only available to those users who take contracts with MTV Mobile, the company’s mobile service.

But apart from the business push, the new platform is a single way for MTV to distribute its content on mobile: the company has up to now had various apps and this now brings several services onto a single platform.

For now, Under The Thumb will only be available in Europe, with no plans to launch it in MTV’s much bigger market of the U.S. “But of course the U.S. is aware and is following what we are doing. All the content is cleared and we have buy-in from at the Viacom level but no short term plans to launch it there,” said Michel Dupont, SVP of MTV in Europe.