Larry Divney Sets Sights on MTV Ads

Dec 13, 2004  •  Post A Comment

MTV Networks this week is expected to centralize its ad sales operations under former Comedy Central boss Larry Divney.

Mr. Divney, who returned from a brief retirement to become chief operating officer of ad sales for MTV Networks in October, is expected to be promoted to president of ad sales.

And while his responsibilities weren’t clearly spelled out before, as president, Mr. Divney will have the ad sales heads of both the MTV music networks and the Nickelodeon networks reporting directly to him.

Under the new arrangement, Sue Danaher, executive VP and general sales manager for Nickelodeon, Nick at Nite and TV Land, is expected to retain her duties. But sources said that Hank Close, executive VP for ad sales at Comedy Central under Mr. Divney, will assume responsibility for the music networks.

Executive VP and general sales manager Doug Rohrer, who had those responsibilities, is expected to take another post at MTVN, sources said.

Mr. Divney did not return a phone call by press time. An MTV spokesperson declined to comment.

With its young viewership and generally strong ratings, MTVN’s ad sales have been strong over the past two years. During this year’s third quarter, Viacom reported that cable network revenues were up 14 percent to $1.7 billion, led by a 16 percent increase in ad revenues. “The increase in advertising revenues was principally driven by 17 percent growth at MTV Networks,” Viacom said.

MTVN has been trying to package its networks in ad sales packages for the past two years.

In 2003, MTVN held a star-studded upfront showcase that encompassed presentations for MTV, MTV2, VH1, CMT, TNN (now Spike), Nick at Night and TV Land. Appearing at the show were Sir Elton John and Kid Rock.

At the time, Tom Freston, now co-president of Viacom, said that having the networks together at a single event would help media buyers “see new ways they can tap into their combined strengths to address their marketing challenges.”

In 2004, MTVN again held a combined upfront presentation at The Theater at Madison Square Garden. This year’s presentation was hosted by Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart and featured performances by Alicia Keys, The Sugarhill Gang and Fleetwood Mac, plus appearances by Muhammad Ali, Dolly Parton and Paul Newman.

This year, MTV unveiled a new MTVNcast package that lets advertisers buy spots running between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m., on MTV, VH1, Spike, Comedy Central and Nick at Nite, guaranteeing ratings among adults 18 to 49 that rival some prime-time shows on broadcast.

MTV’s strategy has been successful so far. This year, it was one of the first networks out of the gate as buyers turned to cable before making their broadcast TV buys.

Mr. Divney retired in April as CEO of Comedy Central, where he’d previously been head of ad sales.

In an infamous earlier career move, Mr. Divney was MTV’s first sales manager in 1981, but left. Mr. Freston joked about that decision during a retirement roast held in Mr. Divney’s honor. “Larry’s serial bad judgment is unsurpassed … he told me two months after MTV started, `I’m leaving, this won’t last,’ and then went to work for the [Cable Health Network],” he said.

Mr. Divney’s other stops in television also include CNN, Headline News, A&E and Business Times on ESPN.

Mr. Close joined Comedy Central in 1998 after 12 years at Fox. He began his career as an account executive for the ACNielsen Co. He later worked at CBS and J. Walter Thomson.

Ms. Danaher joined MTV Networks in 1993 as senior VP and national sales manager. Before joining MTV, she held senior positions at ad agencies Young & Rubicam and Benton & Bowles.