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Bigger, Interactive MTV2 Rings in 2001

NEW YORK -MTV2 this week kicks off the New Year with a relaunch, bolstered by the subscribers and interactive localized programming it inherits through its merger with The Box.

The 24-hour music-video network has a special New Year's Eve and New Year's Day schedule set to ring in its post-Box-merger reincarnation, said MTV2 general manager David Cohn. That Jan. 1 schedule will include a live broadcast from sister network MTV: Music Television's Times Square studios-with visitors such as Marilyn Manson stopping by-and a look at artists to watch in 2001.

The festivities will also include a live performance by Moby via satellite from Edinburgh, Scotland.

From noon to 6 p.m. on New Year's Day, viewers can get "Instant Gratification" and play video jock on MTV2 by logging on to
to request the videos they want to see that day.

Tuesday, Jan. 2, MTV2 will air its new regular lineup. That will include a four-hour afternoon block of interactive, localized music programming called The MTV2 Box Block.
In October, MTV Networks formally announced it would fold its interactive music channel, The Box, into the MTV2 diginet. MTV2 is a cutting-edge spin-off of MTV.

As a result of that merger and new affiliation pacts with Time Warner Cable, AT&T Broadband and Comcast Corp., MTV2's distribution this week hits 30 million to 31 million subscribers, up from 12 million.

But MTV2 will inherit more than just subscribers from The Box. It will also incorporate that network's customized local programming feature in some markets, an option made possible through the 170 servers that The Box installed in headends in 121 markets across the country.

"It's a clear distinction from what we've ever done: the ability to localize programming and to co-brand with cable operators," Cohn said.

The Box's former video-jukebox format required viewers to phone in and pay $1.99 to see the music video of their choice. The Box's markets were also programmed locally for one of nine music formats, which ranged from rock to pop-country.

MTV2 will not require viewers to pay for videos. But viewers can vote online for their requests during the four-hour Box Block,
which airs 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

The interactive, daily four-hour local block will air only in markets in which The Box has servers, and only on cable systems that carry MTV2 on analog, said Cohn. A transition of about one month is expected before DMAs with servers are online for the new program.

Digital cable and direct-broadcast satellite MTV2 subscribers will receive a national feed during The Box Block, according to Cohn.

Those DMAs that receive TheBox Block
will get one of five music-programming mixes boiled down from the nine originally offered by The Box: rock, hip-hop, mainstream, rhythmic and urban.

Viewers who receive The Box Block
can log on to the network's Web site during the show and access the playlist for the music mix in their market: hip-hop, for example.

The site will offer a sampling of 75 titles for which viewers can vote in real time, via the Internet. The music videos that tally the most votes will be played that afternoon.

"We'll have more of a community poll that will be initially Web-based," Cohn said. "The highest vote getter gets played."

In addition to the four-hour interactive block, MTV2 this week will also premiere a show called Control Freak,
which will air from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday.

During that daily program, viewers will also be able to visit MTV2's Web site to vote for music videos that they want to see during that hour.

Although the voting will initially take place on the Internet, Cohn said subscribers with advanced set-tops would eventually be able to click a button on their remote control to vote for the video they want to see.

Time Warner Cable in early December added MTV2 to its digital package in New York City. Cohn expects the network to be part of the MSO's digital offering in all the markets where it offers that package this month.

Also starting this week, four-year-old MTV2 will air national ads. The network had been airing three minutes of local avails, but will now add six minutes of national spots an hour.

"We want to be a profitable business," said Cohn. At 30 million subscribers, MTV2 can finally deliver the critical mass national advertisers demand, he added.

MTV2 will continue to be very distinctive from MTV and VH1, which have both evolved beyond the airing of music videos by adding a good measure of original programming to their schedules, Cohn said.

MTV and MTV2 both broadly aim at the 12-to-34 demographic, although MTV2 "has the upper end of that," or viewers 18 to 34, according to Cohn.

"We're for people who want music videos," he said.

MTV2's playlist will also continue to eschew such teen-pop acts as Britney Spears or'N Sync. The network's bailiwick is to present newer rock and hip-hop artists, or to "go deeper" by airing less-familiar music videos from established acts like Lenny Kravitz, Cohn said.

MTV2 will also continue to air those artists Cohn described as "lovable oddballs"-acts that are out of the mainstream and haven't had platinum-selling albums, like Bjork or Radiohead.