Despite the fact that music videos have taken a back seat to reality TV, MTV pulled out all the stops for its 27th annual Video Music Awards. We're waiting for the overnight ratings (*See update below*), but there's a good chance the show at matched last year's 9 million viewers, its highest viewership since 2004.
MTV stacked the show with plenty of pop star performances, actors presenting awards, and jokes designed to stoke last year's Kanye West-Taylor Swift showdown. And MTV used one of its hottest assets to drive up numbers, debuting a new episode of Jersey Shore at 7 pm, right ahead of the awards show.
This is good news for Viacom, which after years of struggling with MTV's sinking ratings, finally has the channel on track. MTV just wrapped up its biggest summer in three years, with ratings up 23 percent year-over-year thanks to "Jersey Shore,"which draws some 6 million viewers. Reality TV franchises "The Real World" and "The Hills" delivered even stronger ratings this year than last and new series like "Teen Mom" are working as well. And after years of criticism for failing to exploit its brand to sell music or build a social network (why didn't MTV become MySpace?), MTV Music Group has made a big online push. ComScore reports that MTV.com, VH1.com and CMT.com have grown web traffic more than 165% in the past year.
Lady Gaga ruled the night: winning eight awards including the biggest: "Video of the Year." The pop star continues to rake in the dough: in June Forbes ranked her as the 4th in its "Celebrity 100" list with an estimated $62 million in annual pay.
The more attention she draws, the better for Polaroid, in which she owns a stake, and the other companies she's promoted with product placement in her videos, like Virgin Mobile. (see my interview with her from CES)
And of course that means more cash for Lady Gaga's music label, Interscope Records, which is owned by Universal Music Group, which is in turn owned by Vivendi. Earlier this month Vivendi reported a 3.5 percent drop in Q2 profit due to fewer music releases from the likes of Lady Gaga and Eminem, but the company raised its full-year outlook.
Just as important as promoting music sales, the awards show helps MOVIES reach the elusive and valuable teen demographic. Stars of upcoming films were prominently featured as award presenters: actors were introduced with the name of their upcoming films. And movie trailers packed the commercial brakes. Not only do teens and 20 somethings tune in to see the likes of Eminem and Rhianna, but chances are, they're watching the show in real-time, which means they don't skip commercials. .
Viacom missed no opportunity to flog upcoming movies from Paramount and specialty division MTV Films. "Jackass 3D," opening October 15, was the most promoted film of the night. Sony films also got some good exposure, with the stars of including "Easy A," opening Friday and "The Social Network", presenting awards. Sony's "Burlesque" was featured in a "word from our sponsor" in which Julianne Hough promoted an MTV dance competition.
UPDATE: The Video Music Awards blew past expectations -- bringing in 11.4 million total viewers, the biggest audience for any MTV telecast since 2002 and the third most-watched show in MTV history. Total viewership grew 27 percent over last year, which already was the show's highest viewership since 2004. The key 12 to 34-year-old rating scored a 10.0, a full one third higher than last year.
This bodes well for the upcoming awards show season. Conflict between Kanye West and Taylor Swift and some crazy Lady Gaga outfits drummed up interest for this show. We can expect the Golden Globes and even the Oscars to invite Lady Gaga and her gaggle of costumes. Perhaps other shows will even try to highlight drama between their stars.
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