MTV bids to turn "Skins" haters into fans

Fri Dec 10, 2010 8:16pm EST

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - MTV's "Skins", an adaptation of the hit British show about a clutch of libidinous teens, has yet to premiere in the U.S. But the claws have been out for months.

The original British series frankly explored controversial themes including sexual orientation, drug and alcohol use, family dysfunction and mental illness including eating disorders.

And fans wondered, on discussion boards and Facebook, if MTV could do justice to "Skins", which aired in its original form here on cable network BBC America.

They were merciless in posts on the MTV's "Skins" Facebook page. Among the comments: "This is gonna hurt to watch"; "I hate this show already"; "America will make Skins too stupid""

So MTV co-opted the comments and, in the lingua franca of Gen Next, put them in a "Haters Gallery."

It was all part of the network's marketing effort -- the biggest off-channel media spend in network history -- to turn haters into fans and build a community around the show well before its January 17 premiere.

But the cult fervor, said Tina Exarhos, MTV's executive vice president of marketing and multi-platform creative, required some letting go.

"When you unleash this beast, it's unleashed," she said. "If you don't develop a thick skin around the commenting, you're not going to make it. The fans feel like they own it. They say exactly what they think."

Diverging from network orthodoxy, MTV launched a stand-alone "Skins" site rather than simply putting a landing page on MTV.com. Since the network began promoting the show during the October finale of "Jersey Shore", traffic on the site has "exploded," said Exarhos.

And as the network released more content, including trailers, cast introductions and Q&As, the comments from fans went from "really negative to mostly positive," she added.

To date, Skins.tv has counted more than 5 million video streams, 11,500 Facebook "likes" and 140,000 mobile page views. And a "Skins" theme song contest has so far generated more than 6,000 submissions.

"It's not like we're in active promotion of 'Skins' on the homepage," said Exarhos. "That's the hugest bet. We basically created a stand-alone site and handed the tools to the audience to play around with the content wherever they are."

This week, MTV will launch several "Skins" apps including: "What's Your Skins Score," that has users answer questions about their private lives; "Who's More Skins," which rates likeness to various Skins characters; and "Where it Went Down," which lets users map seminal life events such as the location of a first kiss.

"There's a lot of stuff that you just have to let go of. You kind of give them the tools and see where they take it," Exarhos said.

(Editing by Jill Serjeant)