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Michael Wolf Now Leads Band at MTV

Newly appointed MTV Networks President and COO Michael Wolf has never created a TV show or run a sales operation. But as managing partner of McKinsey & Co.’s media practice, he spent years digging through the insides of many of the largest entertainment companies—including MTV Networks—helping them revise the smallest parts of their organizations and the broadest elements of their strategy. Wolf spoke with B&C Business Editor John M. Higgins about his new job.

What are your top priorities for the MTV networks?

The main focus is on the strategic leadership of the digital efforts of the company. It’s really the unifying theme. Affiliate sales and marketing are going to focus on cutting the deals not just for existing platforms but for new platforms. For advertising, we’re going to build up the capabilities to be both the best digital sales force and the best problem solvers online, bar none. In production operations and technology, we need to be able to seamlessly create product for multiple platforms at the same time. Nobody has been able to do that so far.

What about the existing businesses?

There’s a whole lot of great operating people here already. We need to keep the core business engines humming. The challenge is to continue to grow the ratings, which is [MTV Network Chairman Judy McGrath]’s focus. It’s continuing to find ways to create unique value with cable and DBS operators and now telcos and find outgrowths of the business.

MTV Networks has been a consulting client for 10 years, but you’ve worked for many other media companies. From an outsider’s inside perspective, how do you see MTV now?

Because I’ve got an experience base across a number of different companies, I recognize that this is a uniquely talented group of people. There’s a depth of talent in this place, both managerial and creative, that you will not find in other companies. Second, these folks understand how to reinvent themselves all the time. They get the idea of renewal. They always want to be on the edge because they have audiences that make them do that. There’s no other place that I can see where they do that.

At the same time, because of the audiences and the brands, they have a better opportunity than just about anybody else to go from being “just television” to being much broader. This is truly the place that television meets the Internet, and the Internet meets television. It is the nexus of the new and the old. If you look at what some of the portals are trying to do, what they’re really trying to do is be MTV Networks.

You’ve never served in an executive role. How does a consultant step in and actually run a company?

There are so many examples of people who have moved effectively into senior executive roles. McKinsey’s based on that. I know this company better than anybody else. I’m one of the few people who has had a vantage point on every part of this company. There is nobody in this company who’s been in every part of this business, from advertising sales, to affiliate sales, to programming, to research, to international.

Do you see any disadvantages?

No, I don’t really see them.

What shows from MTV Networks family do you TiVo?

Wild Boyz, Wonder Showzen [both MTV2], Punk’d [MTV]. Fairly OddParents [Nickelodeon] is very popular in my house. The Daily Show [Comedy Central]. I don’t TiVo much.