FIVE QUESTIONS WITH VH1’S MICHAEL HIRSCHORN

Plans to Expand Video on Web in New Role as Programming Chief

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- On the heels of VH1’s highest rated year, MTV Networks promoted programmer Michael Hirschorn to exec VP-original programming and production for the network, responsible for programming on both coasts, music development and celebrity talent development. Mr. Hirschorn is a familiar face to media folks. Before he came to VH1 in 2001, he was one of the founders of Inside.com -- an early buzz-laden Web site that covered the converging entertainment, media and technology businesses. Originally a journalist, Mr. Hirschorn was editor in chief at Spin for two years and has held editing posts at Esquire and New York magazine.
Michael Hirschorn

MEDIAWORKS: VH1 is busy creating programming for a variety of different platforms. What are the different considerations among them? Why does VH1 programming work so well on them?

MICHAEL HIRSCHORN: We’ve moved from being a music channel only to being a music and pop culture arbiter. Being able to parse through what we like and don’t like in current and retro pop culture is a very good brand essence to have on the Web and other platforms. Also we work very well in short form; a lot of what we do is very fast paced and chopped up into two or three minute segments that work well on the Web. Ultimately just putting TV on the Web isn’t going to be the big win. It’s up to us to find Web-centric models that employ the VH1 approach.

MEDIAWORKS: You’re launching Web Junk 20 on Friday, taking viral Internet videos to the TV screen. What drove this?

MR. HIRSCHORN: We had so much material coming in and we’d really been noodling it around before the iFilm merger. But when MTV Networks bought iFilm, it was an amazing opportunity to work with people who have literally thousands of clips. We’ve worked well with what we call clip shows and the clips everyone’s really excited about today are on the Web. So we can put it through the mill and come up with this.

MEDIAWORKS: You’re launching your first foray into scripted comedy with “Notorious,” starring Tori Spelling. Why go there?

MR. HIRSCHORN: We really feel that we’ve established ourselves tonally as a very specific generational voice. It’s really centered in pop culture and music and really speaks the way someone in their 20s or 30s would speak about pop culture with shows like “I Love the '80s” and “Surreal Life.” The Tori project really shared that to quite a remarkable degree. She’s self-aware to an extreme of how she’s seen in the public and as someone who’s willing to play with her personality and her upbringing.

MEDIAWORKS: You’ve been a magazine editor, run a Web site, and now you’re a TV programmer. Where’s the future of media headed?

MR. HIRSCHORN: Digitization and digital media is the biggest thing now. When we did Inside.com, we were both three years too late and four years too early. We were built on the idea that the Web and other media would merge. Now it’s happening. The impact is precisely as profound as 1999. It’s huge and not to be underestimated. It will transform all other media, but I’m not sure if it will destroy it.

MEDIAWORKS: What worries you most about the business?

MR. HIRSCHORN: Clearly from a business perspective the Web has the potential to undermine the ad model of all other media. That’s where the biggest threat is. On the flip side there’s talk that digitization will increase the power of brands like VH1 because we can get our shows and content out to more people. If you look at some of the terror over DVRs and TiVo, it’s unfounded because viewership has gone up rather than down. ... Increasingly, the Web is going to be integral to everything we do on TV. Specifically, user-generated content is the engine of the Web. It’s up to us to engage and excite users and viewers to become part of what we’re doing. “Web Junk” is a good example of it. Viewers upload clips and get credit for their participation in the show. You can see the amazing influences of user-generated content on places like Delicious, Technorati, Google blogs. To the degree we can get people excited about VH1 and bring it into the slip of that, it’s exciting.

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