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Isle of MTV Malta – Behind the scenes

The shores of Torre de Belem, Ile du Gaou and Trieste hold fond memories for Red Carpet. That’s where the first Isle of MTV parties took place in early 2000 in a hedonistic mix of sun, swills and DJ-led music. Sat Bal fast-forwards to summer 2012 in Malta where a conceptually updated Isle of MTV awaited us in the capital Valetta.  

As MTV events go, the Isle of MTV has always had a more relaxed edge. It lacks the daunting scale of its huge EMA peer - and the weather’s always nicer on arrival! Stepping off the plane into Malta’s 33°C certainly lightened the mood after a chilly 15° English departure.

That Mediterranean current also drifts through the temperament of the production teams, artists and all associated with taking the event ‘live’. Not that the laid-back mood compromises standards or pace; witness will.i.am ambling carefree through the reception of our hotel, the Grand Excelsior, by day only to ramp up the tempo later that night at rehearsal.

Red Carpet was lucky enough to be invited to his closed-set rehearsal at the venue in Il-Fosos Square. A few feet from the stage we experienced the gear shift from practice to perfect. Dancers slid into precision-choreographed positions again and again as the lyric “I am the future, DeLorean doors…’ was intoned for the umpteenth time…to an audience of two (hi Alicia!).    

On show day that’ll rise to an audience of 50,000. But tonight is where the visualisation crystallises. It’s where the artist sings his all to an audience-to-be, where below-stage managers studiously eye the symmetry of the steel crowd control MOJO barriers for Pop Code-compliancy and where man and machinery tune up to pre-show perfection.

It’s hard to make that kind of anticipation live on the page. Better just to submit to the feel of it; the controlled rage of power that basses through the body at such close quarters, the motorised Nexos lights that spray a schlieren of colour into the night sky and onto assembled faces.

It’s a testament to the coordinated talent of hundreds of souls. Want to meet some of them?

 

The Executive Producer  - Jane Fraser, Vice President, International Productions VIMN South Europe, Middle East & Africa & IoM Malta Executive Producer

Jane Fraser is perched atop a flight case, sunglasses on, avoiding the mid-afternoon heat. Beside us looms the giant stage structure which helpfully provides a measure of shade.

Arching purposefully skywards its black columns give no indication of the tonnage they support and the challenges surmounted during the build process. As such this stage offers a metaphor for Jane Fraser’s own level of support to an army of MTV colleagues. Her support’s dispensed with an easy calm, seemingly unruffled by the civil engineering project that’s developing around us.

 “You have to a bit Zen about it,” she smiles. ”I have responsibility for a network that includes the creative team, television, event management, artist management and the Malta local authority. My role brings all the aspects of the event together for our client Be Viacom. It is pressurised but it’s about handling the crew’s issues calmly and decisively. It’s positive problem-solving.”  

Her counsel is continuous – from a random query by a hard-hatted colleague with designs affixed to a clipboard to some urgent crackling on her Motorola walkie talkie. Fraser takes an almost maternal view of the teams. “It’s hard for them especially in this sun where the physical work can be tiring and relentless as we prepare for rehearsals tonight. But the atmosphere is among the best of MTV’s big shows and our local suppliers and international crew are determined to turn Il-Fosos square into one big party.     

“It’s the sixth show in Malta and every year the enthusiasm of the audience keeps growing. It’s been a great launch pad for artists such as Lady Gaga who first warmed up here and now tops MTV’s biggest events. It’s also part of the MTV World Stage of live music events with lots of programming to millions of households in different global territories, so the exposure is vast.” 

 

The Talent booker - Albert Schilcher, Vice President Talent and Music, MTV International

Enlisting talent for Isle of MTV

The upside regarding artists is that Isle of MTV is an established event and artists like performing here.  It was relatively straightforward getting will.i.am to join us since he’s done the show before with b.e.p. and it was great to have a brand new artist like Eva Simons on stage. We had Gaga here very early on before she was famous. It would be incredible if Eva followed Gaga to superstardom.

 When we’re looking at prospective line-ups we look into artist profiles: who’s successful? Who’s got hits? And who will the future prospects be? Record labels like the event and it helps that we now cover the costs of performances. This is a cost that labels would have carried 10 years ago but the world is changing!

In terms of musical style we go for urban dance pop which really resonates in Malta and with world audiences and the one exception here was probably Kid Rock.

  The team

We have a large group around the world with seven representatives from our main clusters including Europe, Japan, Oz/NZ, Latin America, Africa and SEA. We have Bruce Gilmer (Exec VP music and talent/programming at Viacom) in New York and myself plus eight people in the central international music team. We cover digital offerings as well as events and all other global music programming. And part of our group is also the events production team with executive producers Richard Godfrey and Jane Fraser.

New artists with multi-territory World Stage appeal

There are lots of interesting new acts around right now. Fun is a great band and we’d love to have them join us at one of our future events and also artists like Carly Rae Jepsen and Of Monsters and Men. We love Rita Ora and thought she would have been great for Malta. I’m sure we’ll see her somewhere on an MTV stage soon.

Billing conflicts in Malta?

I wasn’t actually aware that there was an issue over billing of Maltese artists at the Isle of MTV. Of course, there are only so many acts that we can put on and we have had Maltese acts perform in the past. I actually prefer acts with a Maltese flavour and we did have DJs from Malta during the changeovers. I’m sure we could respond to any issue about of lack of Maltese artists and speak to people like the tourism authorities.

Big acts or small acts?

It’s a big thrill to see a small or new act break through. Bruno Mars is a good example of an artist who went on from being a Push act (MTV’s global new act vehicle) to having international hits and performing on our most prestigious event the EMA. But at the same time I love working with the big acts because it’s just a different level of experience and professionalism. Look at Gaga on the EMAs and how she commands the stage and controls the vision. It’s fascinating watching someone like Beyoncé, attending to every detail of her performance to get it absolutely right.

Musical aspirations

I love music but, no, I don’t perform. Partly it’s because members of my family are classical musicians and their perfection put me off at an early age. I knew I could never be that good. I didn't have the discipline!

Smashing it

The event was a great success. You always wonder if anyone’s going to show up to these things initially because there’s so much choice out there. But I think we smashed it and the crowd was great!

 

The Sponsor - Ozlem Birkalan, Cornetto European Brand Manager

Role at Cornetto

 In Europe I manage all communications innovations for Cornetto. We have recently been looking at brand partners not just for Cornetto but also for (parent) Unilever brands. Cornetto has historically been a strong brand in Italy and we’re trying to reposition the brand in Europe to target teens. The partnership is actually between Unilever and Viacom

Why  did you sponsor a music event?

We wanted a relevant engagement for teenagers. In some countries Cornetto is very connected to music platforms as an activation. So we worked with MTV to produce this ‘Summer of Music’ programme and it’s perfect since Cornetto is an ice cream that teens love. It’s an intuitive match. These days it’s so hard to capture this group’s attention and we needed something stronger than product news or brand stories.

Isle of MTV is just one of the things we’re doing this year and we created engagement by flying in some competition winners from our Facebook page.  The second phase is a competition search for a DJ and producer.

Why MTV?

Because we needed a credible partner to talk about music and that’s what MTV brings. We wanted MTV because it operates in so many territories and the problem with pan-European engagement is that some artists are only popular in certain territories and markets. There are very few acts that would appeal to all markets but MTV has captured those acts.

When will you know if it’s paid off?

I won’t be looking at it from hard sales data but from a brand equity perspective and this’ll take longer than analysing hard figures.  We are building brand equity and will look at how Isle of MTV helped us to create a conversation with the fans. It’s more soft metrics than hard numbers.

Would you like to go further and work with bigger MTV properties such as the EMAs?

Absolutely. We are signed up to three activation areas - Italy, the UK and Spain. This is a pilot year  but next year I want to do it on a bigger scale.

What are you pushing from Cornetto’s perspective?

We have a big brand launch coming up next year which will run through our communications strategy and campaign ideas. We need to do edgy stuff that teens will get and we want to make it a brand that uses a ‘love’ theme  campaign so we’ll make it experiential with a ‘social store’ where guests can sample Cornetto. We’ll also give away VIP party tickets as part of the brand experience.

 

The Tourism Chief - Josef Formosa Gauci, CEO Malta Tourism Authority

 The Malta makeover

One of Malta’s main economic pillars is tourism so we’re always trying to convey assets such as its cultural heritage, great weather and sea which attract so many divers. But Malta had an image of somewhere that retired people came to holiday. That business is important but we felt it was confined to the winter months whereas we want to promote Malta as a year-round destination.

Isle of MTV fell into this area in that it helps us offer a varied calendar of events. It also helps our dialogue with tour operators and the travel industry which is strengthened by the fact that Isle of MTV has been held here for six years.  The Malta Music Week that links up to the main Isle of MTV event makes the whole thing bigger than just one night. In that week we get celebrated DJs to play here which tells young people that in summer we have some of the best DJs from Ibiza playing here.

Has it worked?

The strategy’s worked because the figures of increases in under-25s and 35s are substantial. So MTV has helped adapt our image but not so that we’re the new Ayia Napa or Ibiza. We want to convey Malta as a diverse place; you can see temples here that are older than Stonehenge or the Pyramids. Our capital Valetta is a world heritage site in its own right so we’ve got all that and one of the cleanest seas in the Med.

Now we also have Isle of MTV, jazz concerts and the Valetta Arts Fest which goes on for a whole month. Tourists shouldn’t have the perception that it’s going to be ‘dead’ during any time since we now have a seasonal calendar. The MTV event used to move around but has stayed with us annually now so much so that Isle of MTV Malta is now physically branded on the stages.

How does traditional Malta get along with the new young tourists?

There is a peaceful co-existence between the traditional and new and we put extra security on anyway. We are still a safe destination so young people can feel safe walking around at 4am.

Today we have 1.4 million visitors a year compared to 1.2 million four to five years ago. Part of that increase is the young tourist and part of it is our branding of Malta as diverse place. 1.4m last year was a record plus we had a record spend last year of 1.2 billion last year compared to 1.1 billion the year before.

Hosting next year

Informal talks have started with MTV already about whether to do it again and we should know by November one way or the other. We have to look at budgets again.

Is there pressure not to be perceived as a profligate public sector authority, given budget cuts in much of the eurozone?

You have to look at it in the context of the diversity we have to offer. Isle of MTV fits into that. If it didn’t then people would rightly question a government for doing this in the cutback trend.

Negative feedback about Isle of MTV

Only very minor issues eg. a few residents and rubbish but nothing significant. It’s a free concert that brings Malta world-class artists for free. Lady Gaga came here relatively unknown but was certainly known globally when she returned here. Malta’s music fans would have had to go abroad to see her had she not established this relationship with us.

Who would you most like to dine with tonight from the artist line-up?

(Laughs) You have to ask??

Nelly’s booked!

So you’re offering me wil.i.am or Flo Rida? We do get to meet the artists but unfortunately haven't dined with them yet. We get to research other MTV events and I was in Belfast for the EMAs, a great event but I really liked Madrid too before that.

So what don’t you like about your job?

(Smiles) It has its ups and downs.

Is this an up?

Yes Isle of MTV is definitely an up.

 

The SVP - Antonio Canto, SVP Be Viacom, sales arm of Viacom International Media Networks

Teamwork

The production team is fantastic and we have so many nationalities here; I’m Brazilian and the crew is from all over Europe. What Jane (Fraser) says is true - this show is a very different show from other places. It’s very relaxed. The bulk of the 50,000 expected tomorrow will be Maltese and they are well-behaved young people. They drink and jump and have fun like other youngsters but they aren’t nasty with it. My impression is that the people here take the first step in initiating conversation with visitors.

We have done similar concepts to IoM in Europe, Asia and Latin America. Iom is the summer of Europe. These events are part of our World Stage network. We have one soon in Malaysia with Justin Bieber. IoM matches Malta to an absurd degree.

 

 “IoM Malta is what you saw 10 years ago…but on steroids.”

 

The past

Isle of MTV started off as a standalone show and the strategy back then was to have a touring summer music event. Isle of MTV Malta is what you saw 10 years ago when IoM started – but on steroids. It was very DJ-led then but now we have major A-list artists performing here.

The future

We don’t have a contract for next year yet. We’ll be having that conversation with Malta after the show. But we do know that the format is what kids coming to the event want and what MTV audiences want.  Isle of MTV isn’t exclusive to Malta and we have talked to other tourism authorities but I’d like very much to continue the legacy here.  In today’s world brand solutions drive everything and you have to customise that solution to meet the brand and its message and that’s what the event does.

There’s a big list of requirements for a city to be able to host Isle of MTV, mostly logistical and financial requirements. It needs to be profitable and the host city has to have a huge infrastructure to make it happen.

The money

We have local sponsors and Unilever’s Cornetto as an international sponsor so we balance the sponsorship in that way. The P&L on something like the EMAs is a big deal. We have to hit a certain amount of revenue to even pay for the show but you’d be surprised at how little the margin is on something like that.  The truth is that no client will get involved if they’re not going to make money on it so whatever they pay for this production they will want to evaluate it. I can’t disclose figures but if you take Isle of MTV then multiply that by 15 million for the EMA you’ll get an idea of cost scale.

Forward planning

It’s a big commitment for us to get assurances from record labels, airlines, hotels and it’s hard to make those commitments years in advance.  The results of sales usually take a quarter to assess for the benefit of the event for partners. The financial crisis in Europe makes it difficult to forecast anything with great accuracy right now. But I really hope we do come back here because it’s a model that really, really works!

 

 See IoM performance clips here...

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