MTV’s VMA Twitter Tracker Lets Stars, Fans Control The Conversation

Celebs at the Nokia Theatre will see who's trending during the show on Sunday night.

Even though many of the people watching the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards aren’t going to be physically in the Nokia Theatre on Sunday night (September 12), MTV is making sure they’re a part of the experience. Carrying on a tradition that began at last year’s VMAs, MTV is letting viewers in on the live conversation with the Twitter Tracker.

Thanks to a partnership between MTV, the Stamen Group and Twitter, the Tracker allows viewers to track the popularity of the various VMA performers and presenters over the course of the night as the subjects’ images grow and shrink according to how many times they’re mentioned on the social-networking site. MTV News senior vice president Benjamin Wagner said that last year the program tracked over 2 million tweets.

“It was just so apparent last year that our audience is talking about the VMAs all over the place, not just on MTV.com,” Wagner said. “We wanted to be able to reflect that conversation instead of just ignoring it, like acting as if it wasn’t happening on MTV it wasn’t happening.”

The Tracker was also incorporated into the MTV Movie Awards with the added ability to tweet directly from the Twitter tracker platform. During that show, users figured out how they could manipulate their favorite stars’ presence on the Tracker. MTV Mobile senior vice president Michael Scogin, who originated the project, said this is what he hoped would happen with the tracker, and influenced the most recent incarnation that will be used tonight.

The general layout of the website now looks like a leader board, with the various celebrity performers and presenters ranked by their popularity during the awards show, and actually subtly encourages those on Twitter to manipulate the rankings over the course of the night. The board updates itself constantly but allows users to navigate a minute-by-minute timeline of the show to see who is most popular at any given point. By clicking on a particular celeb, you can see what people on Twitter are saying and join in the conversation as well.

“If version one that we did at the VMAs last year was simply about representing the conversation, version two — by adding the ability to tweet — at the Movie Awards was about contributing to the conversation from the interface,” Scogin said. “And then version three, that we’re rolling out for the VMAs this year, is about people influencing the conversation.”

The Twitter Tracker will be a large part of both the VMA Pre-Show and main show. MTV’s new TJ, Gabi Gregg, will be monitoring the tracker periodically during the pre-show, starting at 8 p.m. ET, and will read tweets from users on the air.

A huge wall of television monitors inside the Nokia Theatre will show the Twitter Tracker during commercial breaks, allowing all the celebrities at the show to see what’s trending. Scogin said he hopes that will encourage to jump into the conversation as well. With Twitter-happy attendees like Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and Kanye West, the possibility doesn’t seem unlikely at all.

“It’s really about making Twitter part of the show,” explained Chloe Sladden, the director of media partnership at Twitter. “It’s not like, oh, there’s this other thing, this other technology that we’re going to kind of shoehorn in in some way, but MTV is taking the leap to say, ‘This is the show, this is an element of the show, so let’s make it seamless.’ And what you’ll see is really weaving Twitter into the very experience.”

Tune in tonight for the 27th annual MTV Video Music Awards, broadcast live from the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles! The party starts with MTV News’ VMA Pre-Show at 8 p.m., followed by the main event at 9 p.m. ET/PT. You can still vote for Best New Artist at VMA.MTV.com (or text VMA to 97979 if you’re a Verizon subscriber).