MTV's annual Video Music Awards is pretty much the least essential awards show of the year (a competitive category, to be sure). But MTV took it to a new and bizarre level with its website's livestream for this year's awards, airing tonight. You might expect the MTV.com livestream to mirror what's on TV, in a show of support for web content—after all, MTV has shown some efforts in that direction, with digital-only dramas and a dominance in online music video. But MTV instead opted for a migraine-inducing mishmash of the worst of social networking, in-your-face boredom, and behind-the-scenes looks that reveal far more than MTV should ever reveal.
MTV apparently wanted to restrict all its "A" content to the TV broadcast, which benefits from advertising money and a larger audience. The web-only livestream is billed as a "VIP Pass:" The intro page makes it clear that VMA viewers are expected to use the livestream as a supplement to the real broadcast, not as a replacement.
The intro page isn't lying; these are definitely "moments that you won't see on TV." That's largely because they are incredibly awkward, clumsy, and amateurish moments that the TV broadcast rightfully hides. Mostly, what web viewers see are crowd shots from awful, awful angles, with the crowds made up of 5% maybe-celebrities and 95% miscellaneous crew, like cameramen, sound crew, clipboard-wielding interns, and various production assistants. Every few minutes or so you'll think, "Hey! Is that that guy from that thing?" But then your glimpse at a celebrity is gone, replaced by a low-bitrate shot of a dark corridor.
The livestream's cameras are set up in the least interesting possible locations, like dark inner hallways used exclusively by on-set security, a three-story-high camera aimed at an empty stretch of "red carpet" (which, by the way, is just a large white area—maybe it's green-screened and colored red in post-production), and almost completely dark shots of the seated crowd.
If you've ever wanted to see what the red carpet is really like, this is your chance: It's a barren stretch of white concrete, twenty feet from which is a near-violent crowd of hundreds of entertainment photographers screaming "KESHA! TURN TO YOUR RIGHT! TO YOUR RIGHT! YOUR OTHER RIGHT!" while an underpaid, harried production assistant checks her BlackBerry and wonders how her life went so very wrong.
The sound is uniformly terrible, consisting of muddled crowd noise and far-off screamed "WHOOOOs!" Every once in awhile, the camera will shoot the back of a stage, close enough to hear a faint introduction—"Give it up for WILL.I.AM!!!!"—and a few seconds of a performance. But never an actual shot of a performance—web viewers are not privy to such content!
At the top of the screen is a set of optional sidebars, including Chat (which is mostly Twitter and Facebook chatter about Justin Bieber's hotness or lack thereof), Polls (example: "Which show has the hottest vampires?"), and Liveblog (painfully amateur scribblings about who had the "fiercy mcfiercest entrance," garnished with abysmal grammar and several exclamation marks per sentence).
But the worst part, the most insulting part for those of us who do not pay for cable but rely on the Internet, is that the actual TV broadcast is shown in a little picture-in-picture box in the corner—with no sound. So us cable-less folks can see the real broadcast, with all its proper lighting, interviews, awards presentations, special effects, and live performances, in a one-inch square box with no sound.
This shot sums it up: In the lower right-hand corner, we can see the real broadcast, which is some sort of oh-so-wacky skit involving Chelsea Handler and Rick Ross on one of those scooters for disabled people (insensitive, right?). But web viewers are expected to instead watch a dark stairwell prowled by PAs and a creepy-looking bald guy. With no sound.
MTV also crammed in a "Twitter Tracker," a real-time graph of Twitter data. It doesn't graph much more than sheer number of tweets about a given celebrity (Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, etc.), and supply a portrait of said celebrity with lots of wildly bouncing tiny squares. Theoretically, you can click on any of those squares to bring up an individual tweet about the subject, but in reality the squares are far too small and move far too fast for you to do anything but click a random part of the screen and read about how Twitter user @Tisharoni54 thinks "Kim kardasian got hips smdh is that fake?!? lol she looked pretty tho."
MTV has achieved an uncanny combination of desperate and lazy with this livestream. It manages to cram in every "now" trend MTV execs could think of without a single one of them being worthwhile. Much like most of MTV's honest-to-goodness programming, it is so bad, so incompetent, and so misconceived that I will gladly spend the next hour or two staring, open-mouthed, at my computer screen.
You can access the VMA liveblog at MTV.com.