Doug Rohrer

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In MTV's "The Osbournes," Ozzy's daughter Kelly panics because she's lost her father's credit card. She dumps her purse and searches frantically for it-in the end successfully.

Poor Doug Rohrer. When he saw Kelly's concern, he found himself wondering if he'd failed a little where Ozzy had apparently succeeded, in imparting fiscal responsibility to a teenager. Mr. Rohrer's daughter had lost his credit card and been a bit more cavalier, asking, "Can't you get another one?"

"Obviously, Ozzy did a better job of gaining respect for that particular issue than I had," the 44-year-old Mr. Rohrer says, no doubt partly tongue-in-cheek.

But therein lies an example of the delicious ironies engendered by the megahit. It is those ironies that helped make the show an unexpected smash-with both viewers and advertisers. "I don't know how any show could have surprised anyone more than `The Osbournes,' " says Mr. Rohrer, the exec VP in charge of ad sales for Viacom cable music networks MTV, VH1 and CMT.

Mr. Rohrer, a 10-year veteran at Viacom who joined from Turner Broadcasting System, was able to sell 30-second spots on the show for more than $100,000-a cable record for a non-sports broadcast. And the show sold in the upfront as well as an Eminem album, with sponsors ponying up $2.8 million for Season II packages where half the money goes toward spots on other MTV shows.

Leveraging its desirable programming such as the "Video Music Awards" (which set a viewing record in August) to boost MTV's overall sales has been a successful strategy for Mr. Rohrer, albeit one that media buyers naturally wish he'd eschew. "He's a very tough deal-maker," says a colleague and friend at a competing network.

But it's not just packaging that has worked so well for Mr. Rohrer. He's taken full advantage of the passion the network produces in its viewers. (That's not to say Mr. Rohrer, once a paralegal who's fluent in French, fits the viewer profile: "I'm like the least cool guy working at the coolest network," he says.)

The coveted 12-24 and 18-34 demographics turn to the network for everything from fashion tips to where to go for spring break next year. And advertisers needing to reach those demos know MTV is a must-buy and hope some of the viewer fervor will come their way. "People want to get as close to the MTV brand as they can because of the run-off effect," Mr. Rohrer says.

In 2001, a torpid year for cable nets, MTV boosted its ad revenue by 6.7% to $670 million, third among cable nets, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR. Creating less of a bling-bling effect was VH1, which suffered ratings shortfalls and had to deliver cases of make-goods to advertisers. But Mr. Rohrer says that VH1's troubles-brought on by programming that aged quicker than expected-are temporary. The former linebacker at Greenwich (Conn.) High pulls a Namath on the subject: "I guarantee that VH1 will be the media story in 2003."

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