LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - It's common knowledge that MTV rarely promotes music videos anymore. But on Sunday night, nearly 30 years after the network's inception, it aired the 27th annual Video Music Awards.
What's the point? A delivery mechanism for promoting soon-to-be released movies appealing to the network's teen demographic. Two years after MTV said a much-publicized fond farewell to "Total Request Live," the last of its music video-related programing, the VMAs (this year hosted by late-night comic Chelsea Handler) still attracts a massive audience for its annual tradition of outlandish performances and movie-star guest list.
The 2009 show saw a notable boost over the previous year, with about 9 million viewers watching Kanye West paralyze audiences with an impromptu interruption of Taylor Swift's acceptance speech -- and Gerard Butler handing out a Moonman while promoting his then-upcoming film "Law Abiding Citizen."
With the fall movie season kicking off after Labor Day, the VMAs come at a perfect time to serve as a promotional platform for Hollywood.
"An awards show is a place of high visibility, where an actor can appear onstage and connect the dots between their public persona and the movie," said Michael Taylor, a professor at USC's School of Cinematic Arts. "A billboard reaches however many people drive by; an awards show can reach tens of millions of people. It's just another way to get the message out."
Sunday's show proved no different. The original video diva Cher was on hand to present the award for Video of the Year to Lady Gaga. She did so without mentioning Steven Antin's upcoming musical drama "Burlesque" -- starring herself and the absent (and non-nominated) Christina Aguilera -- but one can expect to see plenty more of her ahead of the film's November 24 release.
"It's not necessarily about the VMAs ratings," a marketing insider for one of the films spotlighted on the telecast told THR. "When you present the video of the year, those photos go everywhere. Magazines and blogs don't run pictures from press junkets; they run photos from award shows and events. It only makes sense for them to appear."
Also in the house to present awards and cross-promote their upcoming films: Justin Timberlake, Andrew Garfield and Jesse Eisenberg from "The Social Network"; and Emma Stone and Penn Badgley from "Easy A," which opens on Friday.
"It just makes sense," the insider said. "The MTV audience is the exact audience they're hoping to reach: high school kids and people on Facebook that will go to see these movies. It's effortless press."
The insider also said that MTV has developed an unwritten agreement with studios to announce the name of the movie the presenters are there to promote. Remember Sunday's presenter introduction: "Now please welcome from the film 'Easy A,' Emma Stone and Penn Badgley." (They introduced a Linkin Park performance after Justin Bieber took home an award.) Easy, indeed.
It certainly would seem silly for MTV not to be eager to help promote these films. After all, look at MTV's advertiser roster for the show. The first Hollywood commercial aired was for Warner Bros.' presentation "The Town," with Ben Affleck (which also had the first film ad on the hourlong VMA preshow). A half-hour into the show, film promos picked up as the cast of "Jackass 3D," led by Johnny Knoxville, handed out the best rock video award after putting on 3D glasses and plugging the upcoming Paramount/MTV Films release. A clip was shown in 2D, however.
The following commercial block included ads for "Social Network" and current box office champion "Resident Evil: Afterlife."
As an MTV property, "Jackass 3D" had a key Sunday presence, making it one of the most promoted films of the night. It was represented by two commercials and what was dubbed a preshow "Jackass 3D"-"Jersey Shore" mashup. Introduced by the cast, the video also featured a sneak peek and positive reviews from the cast of hit MTV show "Shore." At the end of it, Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino highlighted the film's October 15 launch date and said: "Check it out! If you don't, you got a situation!"
Also making ad appearances on the VMAs were Warners' "Life As We Know It," in the pre- and main shows; "Easy A," which aired two commercials; a pair of spots for "Iron Man 2," by Marvel and MTV sibling Paramount, touting a September 28 Blu-ray Disc release; and "Burlesque," with an ad and a preshow "word from our sponsor" in which star Julianne Hough highlighted that the film is about a small-town girl who moves to Los Angeles before she discussed a competition for dancers organized with MTV that will give winners a chance to perform on MTV and earn a cash prize).
The "Twilight" franchise got some publicity via award presenter Ashley Greene, as did the upcoming "Unstoppable" thanks to stars Chris Pine and Rosario Dawson introducing Taylor Swift's awaited performance of her song about Kanye West, who famously interrupted her acceptance speech a year ago. MTV may have killed the video star, but it's breathing life into movie stars.