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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Tuesday, May 28, 2024

MTV cofounder Freston to deliver Snyder Lecture

Tom Freston, a founding member and former chief executive officer of MTV, will deliver this semester's Snyder Presidential Lecture, relaying his experience in backing what was once considered a doomed enterprise and turning it into a media mainstay.

Freston will speak on Oct. 16 at 4:30 p.m. in the Balch Arena Theater.

When MTV launched in 1981, the 35-year-old Freston demonstrated the know-how to start a business and the shrewdness to recognize that a younger demographic would be receptive to the largely unexplored medium of music videos.

"Obviously, he took something that at his time people thought was crazy and wasn't going to fly and turned it into this iconic organization," Dean of Undergraduate Education James Glaser said.

The Snyder Presidential Lecture Series aims each semester to bring one speaker who has challenged the status quo. University President Lawrence Bacow chooses the lecturers for the series, which began in 2004 with an endowed gift from Richard Snyder (A '55), the former chairman and CEO of the publishing company Simon and Schuster.

Past lecturers include author Salman Rushdie, whose 1988 novel "The Satanic Verses" was condemned in a religious edict by then-Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and former Harvard University President Lawrence Summers, who offered thoughts on holistically reforming higher education. In the most recent lecture, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Hackett Fischer talked last spring about the American presidency.

According to Glaser, choosing an entrepreneur this semester marks new terrain for the series. "We really hadn't had anybody from the field of business or the field of media," he said. "And here was an opportunity to bring in a very intelligent person from both of those fields."

For Freston, the road to MTV began in 1980 when he joined the Warner-Annex Satellite Entertainment Company (WASEC). MTV was the brainchild of executives there, who were also responsible for creating Nickelodeon and The Movie Channel.

Jac Holzman, a Warner higher-up at the time, explained to Vanity Fair that the idea for MTV was born in the '60s when he was the president of Elektra Records and produced a video for a Doors album. "We sent it around to the afternoon dance shows, and it helped get them a lot of attention. I thought, ‘Gee, this is kind of nice: exposure through another medium,'" he said.

Viacom later bought out WASEC and is now MTV's parent company. Viacom is split into two sections, and Freston worked a brief stint in 2006 as CEO of the half that includes MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and over 100 other networks. He was forced out after eight months due to slipping stock prices and the media conglomerate's desire for more aggressive leadership.

"On the one hand, we love Tom," Viacom controlling shareholder Sumner Redstone said at the time. "On the other hand, the board felt that not enough was being done [and] that the communication with Wall Street had been deficient, and the stock price reflected that."

Glaser predicted that Freston's talk will prove compelling to a variety of students.

"His appeal should be [to] those who are interested in media and music and popular culture, but also those that are interested in leadership and business," he said.

While Glaser praised last semester's lecturer for a well-received speech, he acknowledged that a popular-culture icon may be a larger draw than an historian.

"I don't think all students knew the [Fischer speech] would be as good as it was," he said. "This [time] they'll know it ahead of time."