Monday, May. 08, 2006

Tom Freston

At 35, an age when many people shift into the buttoned-down phase of their lives, Tom Freston hooked up with a cable-TV outfit that aired short films of rock groups in performance that were called "music videos" and, as one of its founding executives, came up with the anthem, "I Want My MTV," neatly capturing the ethos of a generation. So perhaps it isn't surprising that at 60, Freston is still hip enough to lead Viacom, MTV's parent, into the atomized, multiscreen universe. In January, he became CEO of what has been called the sexy half of Viacom—MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and 123 other cable networks, along with the beleaguered Hollywood studio Paramount—after the split engineered by Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone. (Leslie Moonves runs CBS, the other half, dominated by TV and radio.) Freston's first task will be to turn Viacom's unrivaled pantheon of pop-culture properties, including Dora the Explorer, The Daily Show and South Park, into content that works for the Web, cell phones, iPods and any other platform that comes along. Freston has made some big moves to right Paramount, recently buying rival studio DreamWorks, and he is banking on a big summer hit with Mission: Impossible III. A globe-hopping music junkie, Freston will have to keep Viacom thriving overseas. That ought to be easier than his first international gig, running a garment firm in India and Afghanistan in the late 1970s, the latter under the nose of the invading Soviets. After that, his dealings with China on copyright issues and limits on foreign companies should be a piece of cake.