Five Questions With ... MTV's Van Toffler

MTV Eager to Return to 'Rich Music Heritage' -- Online

Urge and Logo Are Van Toffler's Top Priorities in the Digital Space

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NEW YORK ( -- While cynics note music is only a small part of MTV Networks' prime-time programming, the network is making it a big part of its digital play. Former Interscope executive Courtney Holt was hired to be the digital expert for the Music and Logo Group, filling the role Jason Hirschhorn left last fall when he was bumped up to a corporate position. (Mr. Hirschhorn has since left the company.) And since MTV Networks has to work harder than most other cable networks to keep up with its youthful audience, it was vital that the company fill the position with someone capable of integrating Viacom acquisitions and building new brands in the digital space.
MTV's Van Toffler says the launch of Urge 'stirred our juices to get back into the rich heritage' of music.
MTV's Van Toffler says the launch of Urge 'stirred our juices to get back into the rich heritage' of music.

Van Toffler, president of MTV Networks Music and Logo Group, talked to Ad Age Digital about Courtney Holt, his new right-hand digital man, and what his priorities are in the space.

Ad Age Digital: Courtney Holt was the exec VP of new media, creative and strategic marketing at Interscope Geffen A&M. What kinds of things did he do there that made you think he could lead the digital strategy of one of the world's biggest youth brands?

Mr. Toffler: Hands down this guy has been a leader at taking record labels -- the biggest one, Universal -- into the digital age. He's created all sorts of wonderful promotions with U2 and Eminem and other artists, and with Apple. He's created virtual worlds around artists. ... We've just launched Urge and I've had pockets of people doing the different pieces of our digital strategy but wanted someone in a central role trying to accelerate the content and brands we have living in the digital world.

Ad Age Digital: Courtney comes to you from a record label. You have a lot of nonmusic programming under your umbrella. Does this signal MTV is going to be returning in a greater way to music roots?

Van Toffler: That's definitely a piece of it. There's no denying how popular music is in the wireless and internet space. The internet is the Wild West for music now and that's exciting. With the launch of Urge and all the editorial and programming that goes into it, it stirred our juices to get back into the rich heritage. We probably have the most valuable music library in the last 25 years with MTV, VH1 and CMT. To take advantage of that, [we need to] accelerate our digital-music service and augment the music pieces of our dot-coms at MTV, and ... But we have great people in those groups now creating original content, with Dave Sirulnick and his group, and a couple of weeks ago I announced David Gale, who is my film guy, will be doing long-form original content for the web. So we've got lots of creativity on the nonmusic side as well.

Ad Age Digital: So everyone knows you can't stand still in this kind of media environment. What are priorities for this role?

Mr. Toffler: It's really dimensionalizing our offerings in the digital space. What's our position on social networking, gaming, emerging bands, user-generated content, tools that enable more interactivity, getting Urge to next level, helping dot-coms grow? We're only one year into our broadband services and CMT is about to launch theirs. And Logo has potential to have a big space online and it's just coming up on its one-year anniversary. So we're really in the very early stages of this brand hitting its stride online and in other digital platforms.

Ad Age Digital: Will Courtney be charged with better integrating things such as Xfire or into MTV Networks?

Mr. Toffler: That will be a piece of it. He'll help me integrate some of the assets we acquired such as Xfire, and iFilm into the music and Logo space. ... We'll be accelerating how we integrate our advertising partners across our different platforms in a way that makes sense demographically, let's say from an MTV to a Gametrailers. And we'll look at how we approach gaming companies together to get the most out of what they have to offer online and on TV and if we're sharing as much content as we can share. And then we'll look at how we can integrate some of the tools that these dot-com destinations have to offer.

Ad Age Digital: You launched Urge and while it's part of MTV Networks it's not necessarily an offshoot of one particular property. Can we expect you'll launch new broadband properties outside your core channels?

Toffler: Absolutely. I think the internet and broadband technologies offer us an infinite opportunity to launch a suite of broadband channels, which we're exploring. Some connected to our brands, taking the best of the brands, some entirely new ideas that we're investigating.
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