MTV President Sean Atkins Steps Down After One Year

Sean Atkins and Chris McCarthy - Split- Publicity-H 2016
Courtesy of MTV

VH1 and Logo topper Chris McCarthy will be taking over as he adds MTV to his portfolio.

MTV president Sean Atkins is stepping down, he announced Monday in a note to his staff. Atkins, who just joined the Viacom cable network in September 2015, said he would stay on through January to consult on the transition.

Later Monday morning, Viacom announced that VH1 and Logo president Chris McCarthy would be taking on oversight of MTV as well, becoming president of MTV, VH1 and Logo. McCarthy, who will continue to report to Viacom Music and Entertainment Group president Doug Herzog, will oversee all creative and business operations for MTV, VH1 and Logo.

“Chris has infused every brand he’s led with creativity, strategic clarity and distinctive talent — driving results that defy this extraordinarily competitive landscape,” Herzog said in a statement announcing McCarthy's new title. “MTV is an iconic brand full of opportunity, and Chris has demonstrated the vision and ability to grow its expansive reach and powerful cultural impact.”
Added McCarthy: “I’m humbled by the opportunity to lead MTV, the place where I grew up and learned from some of the most gifted, creative and genuine leaders. The power of the MTV brand is its ability to let go everything it knows and reinvent for the next generation of youth, and I’m excited to push the boundaries of what it can be in this transformative time.”

McCarthy is no stranger to MTV, beginning his career at mtvU, the college network for which he was ultimately named GM. He also served as executive vp at MTV before moving to sister network MTV2, where he was named GM in 2010. There he launched shows like Guy Code and Nick Cannon Presents: Wild 'N Out.

McCarthy gained oversight of Logo in 2014 and led the channel to 10 consecutive quarters of year-over-year growth, creating the network's Emmy-winning doc division as RuPaul's Drag Race scored its first Emmy win and most-watched season in franchise history.

Under McCarthy, Logo and MTV2 posted their highest-rated years ever in 2015. He was named GM of VH1 in July 2015 and was promoted to president of VH1 and Logo in June of this year. During his time with VH1, the network has become the fastest-growing top 25 entertainment network on cable and delivered its biggest year-over-year ratings growth in nearly 15 years in the 2016 fiscal year. The network currently has three of the top five unscripted series on cable, including the No. 1 show in Love and Hip Hop: Atlanta.

McCarthy also has achieved what Atkins sought to do at MTV, revitalizing the brand with high-profile new series, talent and event programming, like Hip Hop Honors, which the network relaunched this year. VH1's upcoming slate includes Martha and Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party, Daytime Divas with Vanessa Williams and the revival of America’s Next Top Model.

Atkins replaced longtime executive Stephen Friedman, who opted last year not to renew his contract, after serving as MTV president since 2011 and having been with the company since 1998. Atkins joined the network from Discovery Communications, where he had served as GM and executive vp, digital media strategy. Prior to Discovery, Atkins was senior vp, digital media at HBO, where he helped conceptualize what became HBOGo, and before that was head of programming and development at Yahoo Entertainment.

Atkins' departure is just the latest exit from MTV, which in 2015 saw president of programming Susanne Daniels leave for a similar post at YouTube and MTV Networks Music & Logo Group president Van Toffler leave in February of that year after a 28-year run at the company. MTV reality head Lauren Dolgen also left just four months ago after a 19-year run at the network.

When Atkins joined MTV, Herzog said of the new hire, “Sean is smart, creative, passionate and remarkably energized about the sea change at hand in our industry. The strength of MTV lies in its ability to constantly reinvent, and Sean’s forward-thinking, versatile leadership will ensure our brand and business continue to evolve and deliver for our audience.”

Atkins said his departure was "in no way an easy decision," adding, "this has been an incredibly enriching and rewarding experience, and I thank every single one of you for that."

Atkins indicated he was proud of the new projects his team had developed, the work they'd done to revitalize the brand, the growth of MTV's Snapchat Discover channel and MTV News.

"This tremendous creative effort is a recipe for success and it will pay off," he said.

In April, Atkins indicated he had big plans for MTV, which unveiled a massive upfront slate of 11 new unscripted series, three scripted series and eight more projects in development. Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter at the time, he said the new slate was part of a major brand reinvention in which MTV was going back to its music roots.

"The idea of having music — in terms of what it means to pop culture and that it gives artists a voice and is always resonant to youth and an influencer of culture — has always been a great element of the MTV brand," Atkins told THR at the time. "We're leaning back into the heritage and resuscitating it and renovating it for today's generation. We become much more about being a voice of culture, like music is, and you see that in our slate, which is a great mix of music stuff, stuff that is influenced by pop culture trends and being in the conversation, and stuff that is unexpected in breaking formats and showing you new things. You can see in the volume that's coming out, which is even more impressive."

Atkins also indicated he had great support from Herzog and then Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman, who himself has since exited after a power struggle with Sumner Redstone, whose National Amusements controls both Viacom and CBS, which are currently exploring a possible recombination.

"The good news for me and my team and the MTV brand is that you couldn’t have a senior management team — whether it's Doug Herzog or Philippe Dauman — who are more behind what we need to get done at MTV," Atkins continued. "These are seasoned executives who know what network turnarounds look like. We have all the resources we need — from marketing and platform support, runway, finances — to get what needs to be done on the screen, and you're seeing it in terms of the increase in volume that's coming out, and you should expect to see that over the coming months and quarters."

Read Atkins' note to his staff below.

I apologize for the shock to your Monday morning, but I have some news to share that will come as a surprise.  I have decided to step down from my post as President of MTV.  I’ll be consulting on the transition through January in an advisory role.
I will leave it to Doug to fill you in on the details, but suffice it to say this was in no way an easy decision for me. This has been an incredibly enriching and rewarding experience, and I thank every single one of you for that. I am so proud of what this team has accomplished together. We’ve filled the creative pipeline with so many new projects and producers. Amazing projects like Sweet/Vicious, Stranded with a Million Bucks, Signed and Going Off are just around the corner. We’ve moved aggressively to recapture music as our muse with projects like Made in Compton, Wonderland and Virtually Famous just to name a few. We’re taking the time and care to do smart thinking around the brand and vision for MTV, including bringing in new media and creative agencies to back our new brand campaign.  We’ve continued to invest into our future with the successful growth of our Snapchat Discover channel, social footprint and MTV News. And we’ve continued to be an incredible social voice with our Elect This campaign and launch of our new documentary unit. This tremendous creative effort is a recipe for success and it will pay off.
I’m so deeply impressed with the team here and so grateful to have been part of it. You have unbelievable drive and dedication, unstoppable creative passion and are relentlessness in attacking challenges from every possible angle. This speaks volumes about the amazing MTV culture and your commitment to this brand.
Thank you so much, and a special word of thanks to my incredible senior team, for pushing and inspiring me every day.
You will all be in very good hands as I move on, I assure you. And I promise I will be watching and cheering as you continue to build up from the great foundation we created together.  
 — Sean

Oct. 24, 8:30 a.m.: This story has been updated with news that Chris McCarthy will be replacing Atkins as MTV president.