Clip-driven series and a focus on popular culture will be at the heart of VH1’s new programming strategy, VH1 General Manager Christina Norman told TelevisionWeek last week.
Ms. Norman rewarded three executives last week with promotions for setting the network in that direction, helping the Viacom-owned cable channel reverse a ratings slide. The team has focused on clip-driven content and on tapping viewer interest in the retro craze.
Loving That Retro
The network named Michael Hirschorn executive VP of production and programming; Shelly Tatro senior VP of production and programming; and Matt Hanna director of development.
In addition, Jim Ackerman was hired as VP of development production and programming and Jeff Olde was hired as an executive consultant.
Ms. Norman credited Mr. Hirschorn and his team with putting together shows such as “I Love the ’70s” and “200 Greatest Pop Culture Icons.” Both series have contributed to the channel’s ratings improvement.
“We have had incredible growth in the year since you started to see these new programs,” said Ms. Norman, adding that the network’s to-date third-quarter ratings have risen 33 percent vs. last year as VH1’s summer ratings set a record for the channel. “`I Love the ’70s’ was a powerhouse for us.”
Indeed, Nielsen figures show that VH1’s summer prime-time ratings (May 26 through Aug. 31, 2003) have jumped sharply year over year, with total viewers surging 42 percent to 529,000. In the 18 to 49 demo, the network has seen a 42 percent jump in viewers to 352,000, according to Turner Broadcasting research.
Going forward, much of the channel’s content will continue to have its roots in music. The programming will explore topics that include the origin of popular songs such as Michael Jackson’s ’80s hit “Billie Jean,” along with other aspects of popular culture.
“In a year, there has been an incredible change in channel presentation, so it feels more vibrant and alive now,” she said. “It’s an interesting place to come and spend time.”
The staffing changes continue an executive overhaul that began in early 2002 amid weak ratings at the network.
After over-relying on its once-hot series “Behind the Music,” VH1 saw its ratings tumble 40 percent between January 2001 and March 2002, before the channel tweaked its programming to expand its target audience to Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers from strictly Baby Boomers. That move was followed by a series of executive shuffles that included expanding the duties of MTV’s Brian Graden to oversee programming, production and development at VH1.
Mr. Hirschorn joined VH1 in July 2001 after having served as editor in chief of Inside.com, a Web-based news service that covered entertainment. Ms. Tatro has been with VH1 since 1996, when she joined as director of series and specials.
Mr. Ackerman was most recently the supervising producer for “The Caroline Rhea Show.”
Mr. Hanna has been with VH1 since 1998 and most recently served as director of music news at the network.
Mr. Olde was an executive producer on MTV’s “BioRhythm” and on Lifetime’s “Intimate Portrait,” among other shows.