"I Want My MTV"

This article from Newsweek's Johnnie L. Roberts is about the local MTV brands around the world:

... MTV International's formula has been to race into unchartered markets and be the first to plant a flag, through channels with broad regional appeal, like MTV Latin America and MTV Asia. ... The key to pulling off the strategy, though, is sticking with the winning approach of mixing universal youth sensibilities with local tastes. All that helps MTV avoid coming across as a cultural imperialist. One example is the hit U.S. show, "Pimp My Ride." In Germany, it's "Pimp My Bicycle." MTV Indonesia airs regular "calls to prayer" for its Muslim audience. Every outpost, which gets it own local stylized spin on the MTV logo, offers a window into that society. On MTV India, "you get a sense of the colorful street culture," says Bill Roedy, president of MTV International. "MTV Japan—a sense of technology edginess; MTV Italy—style and elegance."

About ten years ago, I was the technical director/operations manager for a syndicated Latin American media study that included clients such as MTV Latino.

At the time, MTV had a regional service known as MTV Asia, but it was a peculiar mix of western, Indian and Chinese music, which proved to be problematic everywhere.  That is, an Indian viewer may switch channels when a Chinese song came up, and vice versa.  They knew that they must develop local brands (such as MTV Japan, MTV India, etc).  They once had an MTV service in putonghua, but for the sake of getting distribution, that service became Channel [V] within the Star TV package.  But MTV was anxious to create its own brand.  The mainland China market was not open to them (nor anyone else, for that matter).  So the obvious springboard was Taiwan, with its very high cable/satellite television penetration and affluent young people.

With the launch of this new MTV service only weeks away, the company had a ground crew of one -- a newly hired General Manager.  She had to worry about things like renting an office, interviewing potential new employees, arranging the launch party, sending out invitations and, most importantly, getting the cable distribution contracts.  Meanwhile, there was a whole bunch of research issues that also needed to be addressed:

By practice, MTV learns to answer these questions through local focus groups.  They had not hired any researcher as yet, and there was no one to send from the New York City headquarters who had any knowledge about the Taiwan situation.  So they remembered this Chinese guy with the syndicated Latin American media study, and they borrowed me for a week spent in Taipei.

My company has a local research company with which they work regularly.  So I called them up and gave them the specifications.  There were eight focus group sessions altogether.  They went from 530pm-730pm and 800pm-1000pm over four evenings.  Each group has eight to ten people (such as men 18-24, men 25-34, etc).  I had been given a detailed outline in New York City by MTV and I took a day to work out all the details with the focus group moderator when I got there.

Then a minor logistical issue came up.  The sessions would be video-taped as well as audio-taped.  The audio-tapes can be transcribed/translated in English, if so desired.  "How quickly?" I asked.  It typically takes the translator one week to transcribe/translate one session, so it will take about eight weeks to do everything.  "Too late for the client," I said.  "You don't have to do anything about it then."  The moderator was surprised at that answer, and asked "But what will you do?"  I said, "I'll do it myself."  The moderator looked dubious, and I left it at that.

For the next four days, I would be at the focus groups in the evening.  Afterwards, I went out and had a big meal (and a few drinks).  I went back to the hotel and slept.  I got up early in the morning.  I took out a handheld tape player and a laptop computer and I started transcribing.  I ordered lunch through room service.  And I was basically done with transcribing the two sessions from the previous evening by early afternoon.  Then it was back to the focus groups again.  When I got there, I would give a diskette to the focus group moderator and ask him to email the files for me.  He was astonished how this seemingly impossible mission could be accomplished.

My advantages over the regular transcriber/translator were the following.  I had done this type of work for many years (Translation and its Discontents and The Not Schapelle Corby Post) in which recordings were often made under conditions a lot worse than these controlled focus group sessions.  I knew the script for these sessions and I knew what the questions were.  I was familiar with all the concepts, terms and names.  I was present at the sessions and I knew exactly what happened.  Sometimes, I could even remember what the answer was going to be.

This was something that happened once in my life by chance.  I had no interest in doing this line of work day in and day out, but I did have an interesting week.  In my life, I have been fortunate in having so many diverse experiences.  But with that also came a certain degree of guilt.  Why should I be the one who had the privilege of having interesting, stimulating and exciting work-related experiences while so many others are stuck in boring, repetitious and unrewarding jobs?  And yet, objectively speaking, the idea of spending thousands and thousands hour of your life listening to poorly recorded conversations is also boring, repetitious and unrewarding.  You will probably go out of your mind within one week.  

The difference with me is that I believe that I can always find something interesting, stimulating and exciting no matter what I happened to be doing.  Among many things, I have washed dishes in restaurants, stuffed 10,000+ envelops of solicitation materials, assigned dormitory rooms for 6,000 university students by hand, wrote tens of thousands of lines of assembly language computer codes and so on, but I have always found some redeeming value in the process.  You can assign me to clean the latrine or peel potatos in the army mess, and I will be deriving a science out of it.