Tom Freston
Fmr. Pres. & CEO, Viacom
02:04

Tom Freston: Catching Flak

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MTV was about engaging and informing the youth.

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
Transcript

Question: Did you ever catch any flack for your work at MTV?

Tom Freston: Well you’re gonna get flack for whatever . . . You know if you’re in the media, you’re gonna get flack for almost anything you do from all sides. So you know in the early days of MTV, if you started talking about some of these issues, people go, “Come on man. Play the music.” You know, “We’re not that interested.” Or people would say, you know, “On one hand your promulgating certain stereotypes. And then on another hand you’re trying to level them and break through them, but you’re part of the problem. You’re as much a part of the problem as you . . . You’re more a part of the problem then you might think.” Some people would say, “Why are you getting young people . . .” We actually had this happen. “Why are you looking to get young people involved . . . more involved in the political process? They’re really not . . . If they don’t wanna vote and participate, it’s because they’re not interested. And they’re not interested because they don’t really know and they don’t really care. So why do we want a lot of uninformed, ill-informed people participating and skewing the results of any election?” You could actually get thoughts along those lines as well.

Question: How would you respond?

Tom Freston: You know you wouldn’t be necessarily responding to every particular complaint someone might have about you. But I think one of the . . . You know your most basic response to any of those things was, “Look, this is an issue in our society. We . . . We’re trying to educate people as to what’s going on and raise their awareness, and hopefully their participation. And we think that that’s a good thing. We don’t know necessarily if these people are gonna be liberal or conservative, or what kind of party they’re going to belong to. But just being a functioning member of a democracy is a good thing. So if you’ve got a problem with that, so be it.”

Recorded On: 7/6/07


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