Viacom Music Group Veteran Van Toffler to Exit After 28 Years

Longtime executive oversaw growth of MTV, CMT, VH1

Image courtesy Viacom

Van Toffler, longtime executive at Viacom Music and Logo Group, will depart the company after nearly 28 years of service, Viacom President and CEO Philippe Dauman announced Tuesday.

“After a lot of heart-to-heart conversations he and I had after I offered to extend his contract, Van has chosen to venture out to build a content creation business of his own,” Dauman said in an email to staff.

Toffler, who joined MTV in 1987, will continue to serve in his current post as head of the Viacom Music and Logo Group through April. Toffler will maintain a relationship with the networks as an executive producer for the CMT Awards and MTV Video Music Awards.

“[T]his is a very personal decision about pursuing the loud and insatiable part of my failed musician/poet soul that needs to purely make great stuff … after a long wonderful run with all of you,” Toffler said in a memo.

Details of the content creation business Toffler plans to launch — under the working title Below the Radar — are forthcoming, but Toffler described it in his letter as a “platform agnostic” hybrid of creation and acquisition.

“During his tenure, MTV, CMT, VH1 and LOGO were often at the center of important, irreverent and always wildly popular youth entertainment and culture — from generation-defining programs like ‘Beavis and Butthead’, ‘Jersey Shore’, ‘Jackass’, ‘Teen Wolf’, ’16 and Pregnant’, and ‘The Real World’; to the greatest moments in televised music; to groundbreaking and courageous LGBT programming; to the largest and most influential social media footprint in the industry,” Dauman added in his email.

Here is the complete e-mail sent by Toffler to his staff on Tuesday:

Crafting this sort of email was never in my lexicon or even a passing thought.  After all, who has a front row seat and voice for decades at the crossroads of music, pop, media and sometimes even global political culture and elects to leap off.  Yup, this irrational chucklehead.

When Philippe approached me last year to continue leading the brands I adore until I aged into Bad Grandpa-like triple digits, I entered into a period of consternation and dare I say short bursts of deep thinking (don’t worry, very short and not that deep).  And after at least a few whole minutes and many more meals than Philippe wanted to have with me, I realized at my core I needed to get back to my love of jumping off cliffs without knowing how/where I might land and making expectation defying content that boldly breaks through new boundaries.  So I’ll be launching a new platform agnostic content creation and acquisition liger…. (yes, that stealth hybrid animal from Napoleon Dynamite), under the working title of Below The Radar, with details to come in the months ahead.  To be clear, this is a very personal decision about pursuing the loud and insatiable part of my failed musician/poet soul that needs to purely make great stuff…..after a long wonderful run with all of you.  But you aren’t getting rid of me yet!

Details on what this all means for my beloved Music Group and Viacom fam will follow shortly from Philippe.   I will transition the teams through April and then stay connected to oversee and EP a couple of our most visible tentpole events-the CMT Awards and the Video Music Awards.

It’s rare air for execs to leave these gigs when and how they want and to pass it on to those who have lifted them and each other on their shoulders. Just saying: CMT currently has on its air its biggest show in history, VH1 currently has the #1 reality show in cable tv, and MTV was once again acknowledged as the world’s most valuable youth media brand, evolving with its audience into the biggest social brand in media with over 200 million followers. Oh… and mtv2 and Logo are in the midst of their highest rated years ever.  Needed to float that in.

So indulge me for another mushy minute or two.  I know and love most of you, except for those few who live in fear of my ire (I always wanted to use ire in a sentence),as it should be….not! Besides building the brands, content and businesses that are the envy of the industry, you all continue to operate each day with unbridled passion.  And most importantly, with compassion and genuine affection for each other and the audiences you serve. Don’t tell me that exists anywhere else.

Who are we kidding , most days this joint paid us for making magic we would beg to do for free.  Hell, I danced onstage in Rio behind Axl and Slash and I wasn’t hammered…and I have no rhythm.  Crazy but pretty friggin memorable.  I won’t recount the highs and lows of my time here; there are far too many for one email or even one lifetime.  And pretty much all the lows have been quite well-documented (#wardrobemalfunction).  The truth is I never had a single moment that wasn’t made better by those around me.  All of you elevated the good to exceptional and shrugged off the misses with jokes and lightning recovery.  I hear the murmuring of Pootie Tang under your breath now- but just remember, some of the best creative is often ahead of its time.

As John Lennon said, I’ve had two true partners/loves in my life-Paul and Yoko-and hell those worked out pretty well.  The same goes for me-I’ve had my wife and the resulting offspring who call me Pops, and I’ve had the Music Group.  And that’s as fine as it gets for an immature quite often inappropriate man.

So help me out here – continue to dazzle the world, turn right when the world is turning wrong but doesn’t know it yet, champion and campaign for those underdogs who can’t always get heard without the voices of loud global brands, be charitable and respect and honor your access to young people’s bedrooms throughout the world, bring your passion in your backpack to your workstations every day, f-up….do it boldly as I have shown by example and embrace and celebrate your mistakes and climb back up and do it again, and above all show your compassion for each other every day.  I’ll be watching!

I’ve loved every day with you all.  Thanks for lifting me up, letting me lead you and allowing me quite often to get lost and always come back home.