JOB IS ALL FUN AND GAMES FOR MTV NEW MEDIA EXEC DEL SESTO INTERACTS WITH BEAVIS AND BUTTHEAD

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For many enterprising media executives, playing videogames during working hours would probably be frowned upon. For Gab Del Sesto, it's a prerequisite.

As VP-interactive media research and planning for MTV Networks, Ms. Del Sesto spends much of her time trying out videogames and watching music videos.

That's fine with her bosses at MTV and its parent company Viacom International, both of which have big plans for interactive media.

"Basically, I'm paid to think like a consumer," says Ms. Del Sesto, who is 33, but looks like she's from the younger end of MTV's 12-to-34-year-old audience.

"This is an industry being driven by a lot of technological experts, but a lot of these people aren't stopping to ask consumers what they want. What is it about a medium that they are looking for? What is it about interactivity that will create a benefit for them? And how much they're willing to pay for that experience," explains Ms. Del Sesto from an office overflowing with interactive video gadgets and CD-ROM players.

"We're approaching this business as if it is consumer-driven, not technology-driven."

Ms. Del Sesto's background, in fact, is in research, not technology. She was formerly director of research for MTV and also served as director of strategic planning for WGBH-TV in Boston.

Working closely with Viacom New Media, a corporate entity that's overseeing Viacom's work in interactivity, Ms. Del Sesto is helping to develop interactive applications for new and existing Viacom properties, including videogames and multimedia.

This spring, for example, Viacom will roll out a Nintendo videogame adaptation of Nickelodeon's successful "Rocko's Modern Life" animated series, and in the fall will introduce a videogame version of MTV's red-hot "Beavis and Butthead" for Nintendo and Sega.

"Both of these games are very close to the TV shows in terms of their graphic look. `Beavis and Butthead' is crudely drawn just like the cartoon on the TV show," says Ms. Del Sesto, adding, "The game does not suck, but to exit the game, you have to hit a button that says `Sucks.'*"

Ms. Del Sesto conducted research for MTV Networks' planned test of home shopping on MTV, VH:1 and Nick at Nite, but will not have a direct role in the implementation of the test. If results are encouraging, MTV will launch a free standing home shopping channel next year.

Ms. Del Sesto also is a key player in developing consumer insights for Viacom and AT&T's interactive test bed in Castro Valley, Calif.

"We're looking at a lot of ways that can enable people to get more out of MTV. The same thing with Nickelodeon. How can we take the idea of Nickelodeon and really make it interactive with kids?" Ms. Del Sesto says.

However, she says an equally important mission is to determine what remains traditional, passive analog media.

"One of the things to realize about interactivity is that people will want to do it, but they will also still want to sit and just watch TV," she explains. "Basically, we're trying to figure out what the balance should be."

Much of Ms. Del Sesto's insights come from traditional marketing techniques for surveying consumers, as well as some unusual ones, including MTV's own online bulletin board, Plug In To MTV.

Currently, the CompuServe bulletin board has 75 members, including a southern California high school class.

When not traveling the information highway or playing videogames, Ms. Del Sesto says she spends much of her time watching TV, particularly MTV.

"I've been watching MTV five hours a day anyway, so I figured I might as well get paid for it," she says.

Among Ms. Del Sesto's favorite videogames are Tetris, Minesweeper and Echo the Dolphin, but she says she recently had to erase the games from her home computer.

"It was either that or my marriage," she admits.

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