If Tom Freston’s ouster last year came as a shock, the latest departures from 1515 Broadway are a double whammy. MTV Networks announced today that Michael Wolf, MTVN’s president and COO, and Nicole Browning, its veteran president of affiliate sales and marketing, are both leaving the building.
Associated Press reports that Wolf’s exit has been rumored "for months" at the company’s New York headquarters, where Freston — its much loved former CEO who was fired by Viacom boss Sumner Redstone — exited to a farewell from throngs of mourning MTVN staffers last September. Wolf, who steps down next month, tells AP that "I never viewed this as a long term thing."
Browning’s departure, however, will come as more of a surprise. Unlike Wolf, who stepped into his role in Nov. 2005, Browning was a long-timer at MTVN HQ. As she commented in the company’s press release: "I’ve been at MTV Networks for two decades, and have had the privilege to work with the very best that the media industry has to offer. I feel that now is the time to move on to new challenges and seek out new opportunities for my next leadership role."
MTVN chairman/CEO Judy McGrath praised Browning’s tenure in the company’s statement to the press: "Nicole has masterfully and strategically led our Affiliate Sales and Marketing team, delivering tremendous results financially and operationally. She deserves as much credit as anyone for the industry-leading success of MTV Networks, and for expanding the reach of our brands across multiple platforms. I can’t thank her enough for her work, and I wish her the very best of luck in her next act."
Regarding Wolf, McGrath stated: "Michael’s been a long-time strategic partner to MTV Networks, and we’re grateful to have had his undivided attention devoted to our company for the past year. We accomplished everything we set out to do together, restructuring our Ad Sales and our Affiliate Sales and Marketing businesses for the multiplatform world by bringing in digital sales expertise and expanding the reach of our distribution strategy to include VOD, wireless, and internet partners. Michael completed a strong and actionable long-range plan, and brought some of our best and brightest minds in to the company. We know he has a lot to offer the media industry as a whole, and wish him all the best as he moves on to his next adventure."
Wolf, who had been a consultant to MTVN in his prior capacity as a director at McKinsey & Co., was golden parachute- gracious in his departing statement: "It was my pleasure to work with Judy and the entire team at MTV Networks. I feel great about all that we accomplished-from restructuring the company’s Ad Sales and Affiliate Sales and Marketing businesses, to bringing in fantastic new people and leadership. It’s very gratifying to leave the company with a solid roadmap for success and so well-positioned for future growth."
Searches are under way to fill both positions. In the interim, the staffers who formerly reported to Browning and Wolf — ad sales, affiliate sales and marketing, business and strategy development, business and legal affairs, finance, information systems and technology, and production operations — report directly to McGrath.
Freston’s replacement, Viacom president and CEO Philippe Dauman, has been shaking up the company’s top management beyond MTVN. Paramount president Gail Berman — as the Los Angeles Times (reg. req.) broke yesterday — has been forced to resign while Michael Dolan, Viacom’s former CFO, left the company last month.
Meanwhile, MTVN last week announced a new global digital media team reporting to Mika Salmi, who was named to his new role in November. MTVN bought Salmi’s digital entertainment company, which launched as AtomFilms and morphed into AtomShockwave before rebranding as Atom Entertainment, last August.
Update: An MTVN spokesperson confirmed a Wall Street Journal report that Peter Low, EVP of MTV Networks cable distribution and marketing, left the company with Browning and Wolf; Gawker posted McGrath’s memo on their departures here.