MTV combats local challenge

MTV, the music video channel, is to introduce three separate strands of European programmes in a multi-million-dollar expansion.

These new strands - made possible by investment in digital compression - will allow MTV to regionalise its programming and advertising to suit local consumer demand.

The plan is part of efforts by Viacom, MTV's parent company, to combat growing competition in local markets around the world. Similar regionalisation is planned in South America and Asia.

"We've been plotting this for many months," Bill Roedy, chief executive of MTV Networks, the international arm of MTV, said. "It constitutes a major investment in programming, technology and organisation."

In its new format, the company will operate regional centres in Hamburg and Milan, in addition to its European headquarters in London. Playlists of videos will be decided locally, and regional programming will be produced outside London for the first time.

"This will bring us closer to our audiences," Mr Roedy said.

The plan will be introduced for music on 1 May, and extended to other programming, including magazine formats, by next autumn.

The change in focus has been forced by growing competition in local markets, where MTV clones have pinched business from the US network. Advertisers in particular have been demanding greater flexibility to mount national and regional campaigns, which a single-strand MTV could not accommodate.

The use of local-language presenters has been one advantage of MTV's competitors in such countries as Germany. But MTV does not intend to change its all-English format, claiming that it serves too many European countries - 37 currently - to introduce local-language broadcasts. Advertising, however, will often be in local languages.

The London headquarters will act as a network centre producing programmes for all three strands. Mr Roedy also hopes to see a "rainbow" of programming from the regional centres on air in Britain.