Tom Freston: Beyond MTV

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
  • Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Tom Freston: Well I was part of the early team that put it together in terms of . . . It was a very new concept at the time in terms of packaging it and promoting it in an . . . as a, you know, sort of the innovative new media form of the moment, which is what it was back in the early ‘80s. But moving on from there, I had a succession of jobs at MTV, but then also MTV Networks which was Nickelodeon, and Comedy Central, and VH1, and so many of these branded, you know, sort of television experiences where you would try and create a brand in this new crowded television __________ that would really go after a specific audience for . . . with a specific program type. And you know the buzzword of the day was “narrowcasting”. I really can kind of laugh at that, but that’s what it was sort of called at the time, and it was a new form of television. But I . . . I was a prime driver, not to take too much credit, in terms of sort of the global expansion and internationalization of some of these television networks, which I think, you know, was . . . we ended up covering with hundreds of networks the entire world with hundreds of different versions of Nickelodeon or MTV, which in a sense I think, as you look at globalization and the globalization of media, it played an important role. It was an important way for young people to connect with each other, see each other, see what’s going on in a different part of the world; give young people a sense that there’s a certain amount of their life that they can control; and give them not necessarily role models, but examples of what their life could be outside of where they might happen to live. It was running a creative enterprise. You know became one of significant scale and scope. And you know, and it was highly gratifying. I got to give a lot of iconoclastic people opportunities to develop shows and go on to other careers. Well the impact that I had in my world as a media executive was, I think, to . . . to put . . . to really bring people closer together; to give people a better idea of what they could be; to allow them to see and experience works of others – different points of view; participate in sort of the modern global . . . modern global marketplace and so forth; and hopefully give people some sense of, you know, responsibility about things on the sort of what we call “pro social front” – the commitment they should be making, or ideas they should be aware of, or issues they should be aware of in the modern day world, and hopefully help shape their attitudes towards that.Well we did an awful lot in many different countries on just sort of the participation in the political process. And understanding that you’re a prime mover in a democratic society; and knowing what those issues are; knowing what the candidates in any particular election, for example, were talking about. We did an awful lot of programming about everything from, you know, gun violence; you know on the . . . on gender; on gay . . . sexuality issues; on substance abuse; you know sort of the norms of acceptable behavior, trying to break down stereotypes in our society, to do that in a very conscious way. A lot of things along those lines. Recorded On: 7/6/07


×