Van Toffler Leaves Viacom After 28 Years

UPDATED: Van Toffler, President of MTV Networks Music & Logo Group at Viacom, is departing the company after 28 years. He will be launching a content creation and acquisition company tentatively named Below the Radar. Toffler will be leaving his post in April, but will continue to executive produce a number of Viacom’s flagship events including the VMAs, one of the signature franchises he launched. In a staff email (read it below the post), Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman indicated that there would be announcements about the company’s future executive structure later this week.

As Toffler indicated in an internal memo announcing his departure and future plans (read it in full below), Dauman had approached him about a new long-term contract but he felt he “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.” I hear Toffler’s current contract expires at the end of the year, so he will continue to have a relationship with the company at least until then.

Details about Toffler’s company are still sketchy as it is in early stages and he is putting together funding at the moment. He is expected to be bi-coastal, with presence in new York and Los Angeles, and continue to focus on persons 12-34, who have been his target audience for almost 3 decades at MTV. He will be targeting all platforms – TV, features and digital — looking to break out up-and-coming talent.

Toffler started at MTV and grew through the ranks to President of MTV & MTV2. He was there at the height of music videos’ popularity as MTV grew into a leading global brand. He oversaw cult animated series Beavis and Butthead, helped usher in the docu-reality genre with The Real World, and shepherded the launch a number of awards shows, including the VMAs, as well as several social campaigns, including VH1’s Save the Music. He launched MTV Films, which produced such movies as ElectionHustle and Flow, Blades of Glory and Napoleon Dynamite. Toffler was named Viacom Music and Logo Group President in 2004.

His exit comes at a tough time for Viacom whose shares have been depressed following Q4 results, in part because of declines in domestic ad revenue. During the Q4 earnings call a couple of weeks ago, Dauman said he expects to see a “substantial net cost savings throughout our organization” as a result of a restructuring that includes an “organizational realignment as well as rationalization of content that no longer meets our goals.”

Here is Toffler’s note, followed by Dauman’s:

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.

Philippe Dauman’s memo –

Dear Colleagues:

I am writing to let you know with regret that my good friend, Van Toffler, who has so ably served Viacom and led our Music and Logo Group, has decided to leave the company later this year.

Van has had a long and brilliant career at Viacom.  I consider him to be not only a great colleague, but also one of the finest people I know.  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.  As Van writes in his memo, which I have included below, he will work through April and will have a continuing relationship with the company as Executive Producer on the CMT Awards and the MTV Music Video Awards.

Van joined MTV in 1987, and throughout his career made many important contributions both on screen and in building our most iconic brands.  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.

Van also shepherded and executive produced distinctive and award-winning films, such as Election, Hustle and Flow, Blades of Glory and Napoleon Dynamite.  In addition, he was an enthusiastic advocate of using our brands to speak to audiences about important issues, including encouraging people to vote, helping our troops and providing music education in schools.

His infectious good nature, insatiable curiosity, creativity, and playful and charismatic leadership style have made Van an admired and respected colleague and a mentor to all who worked with him and for him. I will continue to count him as a good friend and close advisor.

I will be announcing more on the transition later this week.  With Van here to help and the deep bench of talented people across our brands, I am confident we won’t miss a beat. In the meantime, let’s all congratulate Van on his many accomplishments and contributions to the Music and LOGO Group and to Viacom.  I know you join me in wishing him all the very best in his new venture and continuing association with our company in the years ahead.

Warm regards,


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