Giddyup! CMT Is Growing Fast

CMT: Country Music Television is stealing straight from MTV's playbook, admits Vice President of Programming Kay Zusmann. MTV has flourished by mixing music programming with reality and celebrity-filled shows. Now Viacom cousin CMT plans to emulate that strategy.

"Music will always be the core," Zusmann explains, "but we're trying to broaden the footprint of CMT."

In two years, MTV Networks has boosted CMT's distribution from 36 million subs to nearly 66 million. Most of that growth, Zusmann boasts, has come in major markets and "A and B" counties. "We're redefining who the typical country fan is."

Indeed, MTVN has helped foster a "a hipper and more contemporary look to CMT," said research chief Betsy Frank, "and that is creating a younger audience."

For these new urban, upscale fans, CMT is preparing more music, reality and lifestyle programming. The channel will spend about $40 million on programming this year, according to Kagan World Media estimates.

CMT executives turn to their MTV and VH1 brethren for advice and inspiration. A new CMT show Got Me With the Band, where fans spend a day with their favorite stars, feels a bit like MTV's upcoming Duets, on which a fan records a duet with his or her favorite musician.

CMT is also into awards shows. Its marquee event The Flameworthy Awards, staged its second annual show April 7, collecting a robust 2.0 rating. Right after, the network debuted its first lifestyle entry—Ultimate Country Home, on which country stars redecorate rooms—to a solid 1.0 rating.

It showed the power of country, Zusmann said. "Opposite a Lifetime movie, the NCAA basketball final and war coverage, we got our highest rating ever."

About eight more new series will debut this year, including six reality and lifestyle shows.

"Country music is so big and has up-and-coming stars, they are smart to get in there and do it the MTV way," said Tom DeCabia, executive vice president, PHD. Country-music sales were up 13% last year in an otherwise soft music business.

Ratings are already on the rise. In the first quarter, the net logged a 0.4 average in prime, up 33% from last year and on par with E! Entertainment Television and MTVN sibling VH1.