Two Veterans to Steer MTVN's Digital Future

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MTV Networks is putting its digital-media fortunes in the hands of two sector veterans.

New MTVN president of Global Digital Media Mika Salmi will look to corral the company's vast and still growing portfolio of digital-media products, which include broadband sites like MTV's Overdrive, community and gaming services like NeoPets and GameTrailers, and MTV mobile-phone properties.

Comedy Central and Spike TV senior vice president of digital media Erik Flannigan hopes to create a better online experience for fans of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart and extreme sports, through a mix of both video and text-based blogs and discussion areas.

BEST PRACTICES

Salmi, formerly CEO of online film and gaming company Atom Entertainment — acquired this past August by MTVN — will oversee some 30 broadband sites, as well as MTV's worldwide mobile-video content production. He said his task is to bring some sense of cohesion and centrality to MTV's various digital-media properties, which he admits have tended to run independently of the organization.

“I will have some kind of leadership role over the way we should be doing things; up to this point it's been a lot of independent entities going off in different directions,” he said.

“My task is to either find best practices in our brands from around the world or introduce best practices and coordinate it across everything,” added Salmi, who succeeds MTV Networks former chief digital officer Jason Hirschhorn and will report directly to MTVN chairwoman and CEO Judy McGrath.

Salmi would not discuss any potential distribution deals with popular community sites such as YouTube and MySpace. The company is still trying to figure out the best way to deal with popular video-sharing sites, which illegally run copyrighted material posted by its users, but offer broad exposure to such content.

Recently MTVN parent Viacom Inc. forced YouTube to remove copyrighted content, including clips from Comedy Central's South Park and The Daily Show. However, it then reversed course and allowed such content to remain on the site.

Salmi did say the company will remain aggressive in acquiring other digital media, but would not provide specifics.

“We're looking at all kinds of content and technology companies,” he said. “There are a lot of deals that are out there.”

ALIGNING ECOSYSTEMS

Flannigan, most recently vice president of programming for AOL, will be charged with overseeing Comedy Central and Spike TV's digital media initiatives, as well as maximizing digital revenue growth opportunities. He said his goal is to make sure that both networks' Web sites become the main hub for popular clips and discussion of top shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report and not community sites like YouTube and MySpace.

“The opportunity is enormous for both brands, and there's no easier way to see that than the preponderance of clips from Comedy Central that are populating blogs, YouTube and other video-sharing sites,” he said. “Now we have to make sure that [Comedycentral.com] and [SpikeTV.com] are the mothership in the [online] ecosystem.

Flannigan would not comment on whether Comedy or Spike will become more aggressive in forcing such sites to remove content. Rather, he said both networks' sites will look to offer a better experience for fans of the content by offering more blogs and text-based communication opportunities along with video images.

“It is a blogger's world. One thing that's really shifted on the Web is pages that can communicate to you in text, give you photos and embed video and link to other things,” he said. “You may not need the 30-second flash introduction that whistles and hums at you and makes pretty pictures.”

MIGRATING FROM MOTHERLOAD

In fact, Comedy Central is quietly backing away from its Motherload broadband video brand it launched in 2005 and is instead emphasizing the comedycentral.com site as the home for original online content for the network.

“The feeling is that there are things beyond just the broadband player that we want to drive people to on the site,” said Comedy Central executive vice president of corporate communications Tony Fox. “There's some thinking that we maybe confusing our audience or creating some work for ourselves by building a second brand when we don't have to.”

As for Spike TV, Flannigan said the site for the men's-targeted network has already begun its metamorphosis from a promotional-based site to a “destination” for network content. While much of Spike's content consists of acquired off-network series like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and theatrical movies, Flannigan said the site will feature video content from its original shows like The Video Game Awards.

“You will see original development, but we're also looking at deals out there for content acquisition where the digital rights are going to be a bigger part of the equation,” he said.

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