In Depth

12 to Watch: Stephen Friedman

Stephen Friedman graduated from running mtvU, Viacom’s network for college students, to president of MTV in November.

12 to Watch

The network is facing the challenge of getting young viewers to watch its shows on old-fashioned television sets, and getting them to watch the commercials that pay the bills. But one man’s challenge is another man’s opportunity.

“I think we’re experiencing a profound generational shift with our audience, and I think it is an incredible, exciting opportunity to reinvent our relationship with this millennial generation,” Mr. Friedman said.

Since it started, MTV has been designed to appeal to younger audiences, abandoning loyal viewers as they exit the 18-to-34 demographic. To reach the people growing into its demo, MTV will be launching 16 new series, which Mr. Friedman thinks could be a record for the channel.

New titles include “The CollegeHumor Show,” based on the Web site; “Nitro Circus,” a stunt show from Johnny Knoxville of “Jackass”; and a show based on students at a performing arts school from Nick Lachey, once one of MTV’s “Newlyweds.”

That young MTV audience tends to watch programming online and use digital video recorders to skip commercials, which means the network needs to find ways to monetize its shows other than through traditional ratings and commercials.

Under Mr. Friedman at mtvU, the channel measured its programming differently. It formed partnerships with advertisers including Hewlett Packard and Ford to create branded entertainment.

“It’s not just about 30[-second] spots or a half-hour show. We are already pioneering some new way across MTV 360 to have those relationships with some of our sponsors,” he said.

“Listening to the audience and understanding how they consume gives us an insight in the best way to create the commerce that is going to be of interest to them, which makes it more effective.”

Looking ahead, Mr. Friedman said he would consider it a successful year if the network could “have both great creative success where we partner with the audience to create cultural moments, and really use the channel and digital to be a megaphone for our audience. And I think when you do that, the commerce and the revenue follow.”


Name: Stephen Friedman

Title: General manager, MTV: Music Television

How long in current position: Since November

Year of birth: 1969

Place of birth: El Paso, Texas

What to watch for: Can he find the programming to connect with a new generation of MTV viewers?

Who knew? Mr. Friedman thought he would spend one year in New York after college and then get his Ph.D. in cultural anthropology. “I fell in love with New York and media and never left,” he said.