Tom Freston
Fmr. Pres. & CEO, Viacom
04:27

Tom Freston: Paris Hiltonization of the news

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How do we address this phenomenon?

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: How do we address it?

Tom Freston: Well I don’t know. I’m not a leader of a media company anymore, but I think the basic drift of your question is the . . . that sort of low hanging, irresistible, sensational fruit of Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan. Given that people have so much time to consume things, the more they consume this sort of meaningless but somewhat pleasurable pap, how much does it exclude their ability to really better understand what’s going on . . . really going on in the world with serious issues? Are they gonna take up all their time as allocated towards absorption of whatever is coming through the media with Britney Spears and Paris Hilton? I mean yeah that’s an issue. And you know it’s very interesting. Back in the ‘70s in New York, all three of the local news shows . . . news networks, they used to contain on the local news a certain amount of international and national news. And it was really, I think, the introduction of FOX, and then the copying of that format where local news translated to fires, car chases, murders. That sort of more tabloidal news would actually be more successful on the ratings front than things more serious and thoughtful. And I guess it’s easy to understand. But then the pursuit of that, you know, and the snowballing of that, one could argue has dumbed down to some degree a certain proportion of the population, making them maybe a bit more susceptible to bad judgments by their leadership. I don’t know what the answer is. On the other hand, we are seeing to some degree the democratization of the media. So those fans of more serious world news . . . I mean there’s a lot of outlets where you can get that if you know where to look. You’ve got the PBSs. You’ve got, you know, various . . . all kinds of news sites online where more increasingly people do get their news. But I do believe there’s a gene in most people that they’re gonna gravitate towards that, you know, personality driven, sensational stuff. I mean a large part of the population finds it kind of irresistible. And I don’t know really what you do about it. I never really ran a news organization per se, so it’s nothing I’ve ever had to be really professionally very thoughtful about, so I just have opinions like everybody else. If anything I was involved in personality driven news from the kind of networks I work with. But there is a, you know, a decreasing, just say geography gap between people in our country and other countries. I mean I think a lot of people in America couldn’t tell you where a lot of countries of the world really are. Iraq, Iran, which one was which. You know if you don’t know that kind of basic information, it puts the republic in a fair degree of vulnerability.

Recorded On: 7/6/07


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