Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Article - Can MTV Stay Cool?

Fascinating article about MTV and its CEO, Judy McGrath here. Some snippets that I pulled, not only about MTV, but about leadership, the impact of media and youth culture.

The $7 billion-a-year operation she oversees is a collection of some of the most recognizable brands in the business, from the original MTV to Nickelodeon to VH1 to Comedy Central. Their programs are seen in 169 countries and heard in 28 languages.

The music channel may have seemed bold and experimental when it began in August, 1981. But the MTV empire today is a staple of the media Establishment and faces a slew of new threats. After all, it's the iPod era, a broadband world, and the online generation is defining for itself what is edgy and new. Ratings may be strong for many of the channels, but the original MTV isn't the must-see it was. "We watch it because it's there," says Marie McGrory, a Manhattan 10th grader. Can McGrath keep her empire cool enough and nimble enough for Marie's generation and beyond?

Studies done for Nickelodeon recently found that kids aged 8 to 14 send an average of 14.4 text messages and make 8.8 calls on their cell phones a day.

And if MTV is to stay a trendsetter, she'll have to maintain the same kind of anything-is-possible spirit she has encouraged since MTV's inception. The key, she says, is creating a space where people feel safe and unafraid to fail: "Falling flat on your face is a great motivator. So is accident." Her mantra: "The smartest thing we can do when confronted by something truly creative is to get out of the way." That's pretty much what happened when two young producers came to McGrath in the early 1990s with a new idea for a dramatic series that didn't require hiring actors or writers. McGrath was intrigued. The idea was to film seven people living in a New York City loft over several months, following the soap opera of their daily lives and dropping a soundtrack of new tunes behind it. MTV's The Real World debuted in 1992, and reality TV was born. Its 17th season is shooting now in Key West.

McGrath's hunger for fiction, movies, and music takes in the highbrow and lowbrow. One recent morning, she got up before the rest of the family in their brownstone on Manhattan's Upper West Side to read Kate Moses' Wintering: A Novel of Sylvia Plath. Several nights before, she stayed up for Madonna's 1991 concert tour documentary Truth or Dare, even as her husband, Mike, begged her to turn the TV off and go to sleep. Whether it's rereading Samuel Beckett's novel Malone Dies or scarfing up the latest issue of US Weekly, friends say she is voracious. "[Judy] was the only person I ever worked with who knew as much about great literature as what was going on between East Coast and West Coast rappers," says former MTV executive Sara Levinson. "I always thought her intuitive appreciation of storytelling and characters was an enormous secret weapon."
HT - YSUpdate

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