Van Toffler Steps Down as MTV Boss

Last of a Vanishing Breed Departs to Start Content Incubator

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Van Toffler
Van Toffler

Van Toffler, one of the last of the old guard at MTV and the driving force behind the network's most enduring franchises, said Tuesday that he is stepping down to hang up his own shingle.

A 28-year MTV veteran, Mr. Toffler plans to open Under the Radar, a content creation and acquisitions company. He has served as president of the MTV Networks Music & Logo Group, a collective that includes MTV, VH1 and CMT, since March 2008.

Mr. Toffler is expected to remain in his current role until some time in April, and he will continue to executive produce a number of MTV Networks events, including the 2015 Video Music Awards on Aug. 30. Introduced way back in 1984, the VMAs have served as MTV's most visible connection to the zeitgeist, as every show seems to feature at least one genuine WTF moment from the likes of Madonna, Michael Jackson, Nirvana, Britney Spears and, more recently, Kanye West and Taylor Swift.

Among the vanguard series Mr. Toffler helped bring into being during his tenure at MTV are "Beavis & Butthead," "The Real World," "Jackass" and "Jersey Shore."

Although Viacom had offered to renew contract, according to Mr. Toffler, the longtime MTV exec said he felt like the time was right for him to venture out on his own.

"While [Viacom president and CEO] Philippe [Dauman] approached me last year to continue leading the brands I adore until I age into 'Bad Grampa'-like triple digits … I realized at my core I needed to get back to my love of jumping off cliffs without knowing how/where I might land," Mr. Toffler wrote, in a characteristically discursive and chatty memo to MTV Networks staffers. He went on to pepper his farewell notice with references to "Pootie Tang," John Lennon, Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" and Axl Rose.

Mr. Toffler's successor was not immediately identified. In a memo today, Mr. Dauman said that he would announce more on the transition "later this week."

In that same communiqué, Mr. Dauman praised the outgoing music boss for his "infectious good nature, insatiable curiosity, creativity and playful and charismatic leadership style." Not coincidentally, these were the same sort of adjectives that were always used to describe Mr. Dauman's predecessor, MTV co-founder Tom Freston.

Mr. Freston was relieved of his duties in September 2006, after angering Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone by allowing the company to be out-bid for the right to buy MySpace. (Six years after News Corp. victoriously shelled out $580 million for the social networking platform, Rupert Murdoch's media conglomerate turned around and sold it for $35 million.)

It is perhaps worth noting that Mr. Toffler did not mention Mr. Redstone in his 800-word valediction. Employees maintain that Mr. Freston's ouster brought an end to the freewheeling "rock n' roll" spirit and hyper-creative culture that informed the "I Want My MTV" era and beyond; the mood would only darken upon MTVN CEO Judy McGrath's departure in 2011.

If nothing else, Mr. Toffler will sidestep another MTVN re-organization effort. Last month, Mr. Dauman told investors that a company-wide initiative to "focus on more and better original programming that monetizes on all screens" would result in a reduced headcount.

"It is clear that this transition will require some organizational realignment as well as rationalization of content that no longer meets our goals," Mr. Dauman said during Viacom's quarterly earnings call. "These changes are well underway and will result in substantial net cost savings throughout our organization while at the same time increasing our focus and investment in areas with the highest growth potential."

Viacom COO Tom Dooley went on to add that the company would disclose more information about the restructuring during its second quarter earnings call, which is scheduled for April 29.

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