MTV Networks reached back to its past to find a man to lead it into the high-tech future.
The unit of Viacom Inc. announced Tuesday that it has hired Fred Seibert, an independent producer who is the former president of Hanna-Barbera Cartoons and was MTV’s first creative director in 1981, as president of MTV Networks Online.
The online operation runs MTV.com, VH1.com and Nick.com, the Internet sites sponsored by the two MTV music cable channels and Nickelodeon, Viacom’s popular children’s cable channel. All three are scheduled to undergo a major revamping over the next few months to take advantage of new multimedia technology and exploit growing direct-sales opportunities on the Web.
Seibert, 47, described himself in an interview as a “regular user” of the Internet, although he has never before run an online company. But he said his experience as an entertainment executive and producer would help him to maintain the sites as creative draws for their technologically demanding audiences.
That harks back to his first role at the nascent MTV, when as creative director he was responsible for overseeing the network’s distinctive logo and style--almost every creative aspect of the network, in fact, except for the music videos themselves.
After that, he worked as an independent television producer and consultant and, from 1992 to 1997, as president of Hanna-Barbera Cartoons.
Viacom’s Internet strategy differs somewhat from those of such other entertainment companies as Walt Disney Co. and the NBC unit of General Electric Co. Both of those are working to build portal sites, large-scale Web sites that aim to attract users by offering varied services such as shopping and Web searches as well as simplified access to a host of related locations on the Internet.
MTV.com and Nick.com, by contrast, aim to build on their parents’ high brand-name recognition to become leading destination sites for their niche audiences of music lovers and children.
As that unfolds, according to Tom Freston, chairman and chief executive of MTV Networks, the company will consider spinning off its Web operations as a separate company, the better to exploit the high market valuations investors are paying for Internet companies.
Seibert said he does not believe that Viacom needs to host a portal to drive Web traffic to its other sites. The popularity of its cable channels will accomplish that, he said.
“We have a huge engine of growth--our promotional firepower,” he said. “And we know how to use it as well as anyone in the television business.”