MTV is expanding its programming geared at promoting little-known and unsigned acts. The network is rolling out two initiatives, one for rock- and rap-focused MTV2 and another for college music specia

MTV is expanding its programming geared at promoting little-known and unsigned acts. The network is rolling out two initiatives, one for rock- and rap-focused MTV2 and another for college music specialist mtvU, which will focus on promising young bands toiling in obscurity.

In the most ambitious program, mtvU is teaming with Epic Records on a $1.5 million new-artist discovery contest called "Best Music on Campus." The winner, to be selected in May 2007, receives a record deal with Epic that promises a minimum of one album, two videos, retail and radio support, marketing, video premieres on mtvU, booking on mtvU events and a "Making Of" series on mtvU.

Competing bands must have at least one member in college. To enter, artists upload their music and videos to an interactive profile on mtvu.com. MtvU will name 50 finalists in April 2007.

Offering label deals via undiscovered-artist contests is nothing new. But a payday on the scale that Epic and MTV are proposing is rare. The companies are hoping that the financial commitment, coupled with the power of their respective brands, will draw a better than average pool of talent to the contest. Online unsigned-band contests are notoriously poor at actually discovering commercially successful acts.

Epic Records president Charlie Walk says the label is aiming high in the type of band it seeks. "Looking at MySpace and all of these online spaces, nothing has really broken yet," Walk says. "We're going to try to identify the next big artist." mtvU GM Stephen Friedman says the winner will be selected in part based on which act attracts the most views and streams on mtvu.com.

For bands that may not be ready for a major label deal, mtvU is also offering short-term deals with Epitaph Records, Definitive Jux and Drive Thru under its "Best Music on Campus" banner. Winners receive EP deals ranging in value from $35,000 to $110,000.

In the second initiative, MTV2 is pushing emerging indie bands through a program called "MTV2 Dew Circuit Breakout." The program, which highlights acts whose videos have never before been played on MTV2, pits six up-and-coming groups against each other in a battle of the bands. Three finalists will be featured in a Dec. 9 live special, where an ultimate winner will be unveiled. The week prior to the special MTV2 viewers will vote online for their favorite band, "American Idol" style.

"Exposing our audience to new bands is important and we're trying to find ways that are unique for each [MTV] platform," MTV president Christina Norman says.