Tom Freston
Fmr. Pres. & CEO, Viacom

The Rebirth of Afghanistan

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Tom Freston describes the exciting birth of the television and radio industry in Afghanistan, as well as the physical reconstruction of parts of the country that had literally been blown to bits.

Tom Freston

Tom Freston was one of MTV's founding executives and until recently served as CEO of Viacom. Freston is responsible for the generation-defining ad campaign "I Want My MTV." In 1987 he became the CEO of MTV Networks, using his position to advance the networks' position in new markets, as well as launching several ancillary product lines and tie-ins, including "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," "The Real World," "Beavis and Butthead," "South Park" and "SpongeBob Square Pants." From 2004, Freston led Viacom, overseeing all cable network properties (MTV Networks and Showtime Networks), the motion picture businesses of Paramount Pictures, and the publishing operations of Simon & Schuster. He resigned in September 2006. Freston was educated at New York University and is currently on the Board of Trustees for Emerson College in Boston. Ideas recorded on: 11/5/07

Question: What does your work in Afghanistan entail?

Tom Freston: I have friends there now who are involved in the new media in Afghanistan in terms of television, radio. Very exciting. I mean you got a country where they had no TVs or radio. The Taliban had basically banned TV and radio, so people buried their TVs. The few that had them, you know, sort of buried them in the yard or down in the basement. So you’re really starting out with a virgin business. There was no competitors, no history, and it’s quite different from someone who’s got 500 TV channels in their house and a full broadband Internet setup. But I work, and talk, and know some of those people. But other people that I deal with are, you know, people who are involved in the physical reconstruction of buildings or parts of the country that has really been blown to bits. Or just trying to make connections with . . . with certain people here or in other countries who might be able to help with so many of the huge tasks that face that country.

Recorded On: 7/6/07