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"MTV speaks uniquely to a group of people who are endlessly fascinated with watching themselves."
—-Judy McGrath, MTV Networks
MTV GOES VIRTUAL WITH LAGUNA BEACH
Fans Can Create Their Own Avatars and Partake in Reality TV
Now, you can not only watch MTV, you can actually live it.

That’s what MTV Networks Music, Film and Logo President Van Toffler says about the company’s latest initiative, Virtual Laguna Beach, an online initiative where fans can create virtual versions of themselves, called avatars, that they control in versions of the show’s setting.

Virtual Laguna Beach is the first of three virtual worlds that MTV plans over the next year as part of an effort to compete with MySpace and YouTube, which come on the heels of Tom Freston’s dismissal as chief executive of Viacom by Sumner Redstone precisely the company had not been aggressive enough in its online expansion.

The company also plans to launch VMTV, a music destination where visitors can club-hop, buy music, watch videos, sing karaoke or even start their own bands. The third virtual destination, LogoWorld, an offshoot of Logo, the gay and lesbian cable channel, will be designed entirely by its participants.

Avatar-based social sites like Sims Online, Second Life and There.com already attract hundreds of thousands of users.

One of the appeals of virtual worlds is the way advertising can spill over into the real one.

Visitors can buy virtual stuff using currency they earned watching an infomercial or checking out a new product for an MTV advertiser. Virtual Laguna Beach has advertising relationships with brands including Cingular, Pepsi-Cola, Secret and another Viacom company, Paramount.

MTV executives declined to say how much they invested in Virtual Laguna Beach, but said they viewed it as an experiment that could lead to new sales opportunities.

Visiting Virtual Laguna Beach requires registering at the Web site, www.vlb.mtv.com, and downloading a piece of software. While many movies and TV shows have video games built around them, these are the first attempts at 3-D online communities.

Said MTV Networks head Judy McGrath: “MTV speaks uniquely to a group of people who are endlessly fascinated with watching themselves.”

Or hopefully, avatars of themselves.

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