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MTV President Stephen Friedman Exits Network

Executive led Viacom-owned network for seven years

Stephen Friedman is departing his post as president of MTV.

The news was announced in a letter to network staff from Friedman. According to his note and another to the staff from Doug Herzog, president of Viacom Entertainment Group, Friedman is departing to pursue social-impact ventures.

Friedman had served as president of MTV since 2011. He first joined the company in 1998.

Prior to his promotion to president, Friedman had served as general manager of the network. He spent seven years as MTV’s top executive.

Friedman’s departure follows that of Susanne Daniels, who exited her role as programming president in July. Daniels went on to join YouTube as vice president of originals.

Herzog gained oversight of MTV in February, following an executive shakeup that saw his former counterpart Van Toffler leave the company.

Viacom’s stock price was hit harder than any other media company’s in August during a sell-off sparked by fears over cable cord-cutting. The company had reported lower-than-expected revenues at the time.

MTV has been one of several Viacom networks to experience recent ratings declines, along with Comedy Central

Friedman’s note to staff:

I’m going to start this with a quote from an Irish poet.  Not Bono, much as I admire him.  Not Niall Horan, much as I respect his ability to boost ratings.  I’m going to quote the great Seamus Heaney.  In his poem “The Swing,” Heaney describes a swing as “a lure let down to tempt the soul to rise.”

I think it is a beautiful metaphor for aiming high, for following your calling.  After 18 years, including 7 at the helm of MTV, it reminds me of what originally inspired me to work here.  When I was hired to create the pro-social department, I was told, “Your job will be to use MTV’s superpowers for good.”

While I had personally experienced the cultural power of MTV, it wasn’t until I started working here that I understood the true power behind the brand.  Those “superpowers” originate with you.   Each of you brings your own calling, your own desire to take risks and make new history.

That secret ingredient that supercharges the brand is your deeply held humanity.  It’s woven into everything we do, even our craziest cultural moments.  Thanks to your passion and creativity, MTV has shown it is possible to be both outrageously entertaining and a force for positive change.

When “Jackass” was airing in all its glory, MTV, as part of a year-long anti-bias campaign, went dark for an entire day scrolling the names of thousands of hate crimes victims to call for a comprehensive hate crimes bill – which finally passed in 2009.

While “Jersey Shore” was at its height, we debuted “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom.”  Some mistook these cautionary tales as further sign of the apocalypse, but the National Bureau of Economic Research found that the shows helped drive a remarkable decrease in teen pregnancy.

When “Laguna Beach” reimagined reality TV, mtvU partnered with a brilliant USC grad student to develop “Darfur Is Dying” – one of the first viral games for change, which helped mobilize millions of young people to take action and raise awareness about the genocide in Darfur.

As Beyoncé, Taylor, Kanye and Nicki graced our air with world-class artistry and culture defining moments, our Look Different campaign has confronted bias in multiple ways – through “White People,” “The T Word with Laverne Cox,” and MLK IS NOW – which turned MTV black and white for the day to encourage our audience to move from “color blindness” to “color bravery.”

Having been blessed to work with you and be part of this remarkable brand for the better part of my career, I am leaving to return full time to what tempts my soul to rise.

My next adventure will be focused full time on giving back, on social impact, and on applying what I’ve learned from MTV about the power of brands and storytelling to create positive change.

What MTV understood at its inception, a growing part of the world is now actively pursuing.  We’re in the midst of a boom of mission driven companies that are redefining business while tackling some of the biggest social challenges we face.

Thank you for inspiring me and allowing me to be part of the extraordinary ride that is MTV.   I’ll be around for the next few weeks wrapping up, and I hope to say goodbye to as many of you in person as I can. I will miss you.  Your passion, creativity, and personal callings have transformed each new MTV – and, in the process, transformed culture.  I will be rooting you on as you do it once again.

XO – Stephen

And from Friedman’s boss Doug Herzog:

You heard it from the man himself – Stephen Friedman has decided to leave MTV and return to the field that brought him to our door: social impact and mission-driven business.  Stephen gave me notice back in April, but stayed on to help with the transition as we brought MTV and Logo into the new Music and Entertainment Group.  I’m grateful for that, because his timing also gave me a beat to conduct a thorough, thoughtful search for the new President of MTV.   More on that in a minute, but, first, a few words about Stephen.

Stephen joined MTV in 1998 to create its Public Affairs team and ultimately rose to run the entire business.  That’s a pretty unique career path and it says a lot – not only about Stephen, but about how talented people can grow and contribute beyond their scope at this company.

As President of MTV, Stephen transformed the network into the cultural home of the Millennial Generation, overseeing the launch of cultural juggernauts in “Teen Mom,” “Catfish” and “Jersey Shore.”  He led the network’s push into scripted, with critically acclaimed hits like “Teen Wolf,” “Awkward,” and “Scream,” as well as the upcoming “Shannara Chronicles.”    Stephen also ignited a creative rebirth at MTV2 and Logo, with both networks currently achieving their highest-rated years ever.  He’s led the network during an incredible time of transition in media, championing the launch of Always On and MTV’s continued reinvention for the mobile age, which is driving enormous growth among our sites and app.

Pro-social has always been Stephen’s passion, though.  From mtvU’s Darfur Is Dying to the provocative “White People,” social impact is a thread that runs through Stephen’s entire career with MTV.  Under his leadership, MTV has launched multiple pro-social campaigns that have had real impact and earned the network Peabodys and Emmys alike.

Maybe the greatest credit to Stephen is the incredible team he’s built and nurtured during his tenure. As we move forward, all of you will continue to play a vital role in shaping the brand, putting great content on our screens, and keeping us connected to our audience.

I personally directed the search for the new President of MTV, and spoke to so many smart, accomplished people of varying backgrounds who’d love nothing more than to sit in that chair.   I can tell you firsthand that, throughout our industry, there is a deep admiration for the power of MTV and the enormity and cultural impact of what you do.

I’m excited to share some news on that front very soon – tomorrow, in fact – but today I hope you’ll join me in thanking Stephen for everything he’s given to MTV.