MTV Thins Ranks to Focus on Digital

Feb 19, 2007  •  Post A Comment

A lot fewer familiar faces surround President and CEO Judy McGrath at MTV Networks, which fired about 250 U.S. staffers last week.

Five months after Tom Freston was fired as CEO of Viacom by Chairman Sumner Redstone for slow earnings growth and being under-aggressive in building digital businesses at MTVN, Ms. McGrath swung the ax, eliminating people and scaling back or closing smaller networks in order to concentrate on digital opportunities.

The layoffs represented more than 5 percent of MTVN’s staff.

Some of the departed senior executives had been with the company for decades, but they were let go both to create change and to eliminate large salaries. The affiliate sales and marketing department, including staffers in the company’s Los Angeles and Chicago offices, appeared to be particularly hard hit.

Reorganizations of the company’s ad sales departments were also being worked out. The company is expected to consolidate ad sales into three departments, one for the music networks, one for kids and family and the third for entertainment, including Comedy Central, Spike and TV Land. That group is expected to be led by Jeff Lucas, who had been in charge of ad sales for Comedy Central. Karen Bressner, who had overseen TV Land, is leaving the company.

“The close-knit culture we have at MTV Networks makes this especially tough,” Ms. McGrath said in a memo issued before individuals were notified that they would be leaving the company. “Everyone here makes invaluable contributions to the company every single day, and it is painful to see hardworking, dedicated people leave us.”

But change was necessary “to build resources against some new businesses-our interactive properties and some of our new networks-and we will make reductions in others,” she said.

Last week MTV World, a cluster of pay channels aimed at multicultural audiences, was shut down. “Unfortunately, the premium distribution model for MTV World proved more challenging than we anticipated in this competitive environment,” the company said in a statement. “We are continuing to investigate ways to integrate the MTV Desi, Chi and K brands online and on our other screens.”

Nusrat Currani, general manager of MTV World, might take another job at MTVN.

The company also eliminated nearly the entire staffs of MTV2 and VH1 Classic. Eric Sherman, general manager of VH1 Classic, is no longer with the company. David Cohn, who ran MTV2, was considering another job at the company, sources said. MTV also consolidated other departments including marketing and program promotions, online news and events production.

Jessica Heacock, executive VP of affiliate sales and marketing, Paul DeBenedittis, executive VP of cross channel scheduling, and David Sussman, executive VP and MTVN general counsel, might be the highest-ranking executives to leave the company. Sources said Ms. Heacock resigned after being passed over for the top affiliate-relations post. Mr. Sussman is being replaced by George Cheeks and Andra Shapiro.

Also leaving the company are Sandy Asherdorf, senior VP of affiliate ad sales, Salli Frattini, senior VP of production, Kathy Flynn, senior VP of events, Susan Keith, VP of broadband, and Laura Nelson, senior VP of communications at VH1.

Relatively few changes took place at some networks. Comedy Central, Spike and CMT appeared relatively unscathed, as did the Nickelodeon and MTV Kids and Family Group.

The layoffs came a month after the departure of two of the company’s top executives, Chief Operating Officer Michael Wolf and Distribution President Nicole Browning.

MTVN is also evaluating its international operations.