MEDIA HEADLINER: Smooth media operator aims to boost Viacom's properties - Paul Curtis must catch up on the latest trends for his new post, Ian Darby writes

Paul Curtis is a popular man at home. His imminent move to Viacom

Brand Solutions, which handles sales for MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon and

Paramount Comedy Channel, has sparked excitement in his 13-year-old son,

who is looking forward to advising his dad on the latest music

trends.



Curtis too is relishing the challenge. Having been through the whirlwind

of Channel 5's launch and then heading Channel 5 Interactive, he is

ready for his next test. 'This is the first TV station I've worked in

that is a TV station with a studio in it. Viacom is also a big company

with great resources behind it,' he enthuses.



Viacom Brand Solutions officially opened its doors in January after MTV

won the contract to handle sales for the Paramount Comedy Channel and

Nickelodeon last year. Sky, which owns 50 per cent of Nickelodeon,

previously held the task. Together with sales teams for MTV and VH1,

Curtis will handle digital brands such as MTV Dance and MTV Hits and the

websites MTV.co.uk and NickTV.co.uk.



Curtis says his 'bread and butter' task is to build this sales operation

and construct better deals across the various youth platforms Viacom can

offer. He says: 'A good job has been done with Nickelodeon but Paramount

is more of a challenge.' As well as building sales for brands such as

Paramount, Curtis will get his teeth into the long-term goal of genuine

cross-media deals throughout Viacom's other properties - such as UCI

cinemas and the video rental chain Blockbuster.



Others, notably Emap, have failed to do this on any scale, so will it be

any different at Viacom? Curtis thinks so: 'If you look at what

McDonald's did with Disney and then imagine the association Coke has

with MTV working through UCI cinemas and on tubes and buses, then it

will work. The reason it hasn't worked in some cases is because in the

UK people just look at media and ignore promotions and sponsorship.'



A large part of Curtis' role at Viacom will be to convince the

advertising and media community of opportunities for brands to be

associated with Viacom properties. He admits: 'The reality of what

brands like MTV and Nickelodeon can deliver to the advertising community

could be stronger.'



Observers agree that although brands such as MTV have great exposure

considering their relative audience, there is a job to be done in

building profile among agencies. Jim Marshall, the chief executive of

MediaVest, says: 'Viacom brands do not have as high a profile in selling

to the ad industry as they should do. Paul's knowledge and experience

should be valuable in addressing that.'



Curtis is seen within the industry as a highly experienced and

responsible operator. Calling him a 'safe pair of hands' would probably

not do justice to him though. As part of Channel 5's launch team,

working alongside his old colleague Nick Milligan (who he has known

since his TVS days in the early 80s), Curtis has helped to build an

undoubted sales success. Those who know Curtis use words such as

'sensible' and 'knowledgeable' when describing him. His boss, MTV

Networks' UK managing director Michael Bakker, has hired him for his

'creative thinking ability'.



Milligan says: 'This is great for him. He's a real lateral thinker.

We've done three start-ups together and he likes an intellectual

challenge.



We're chalk and cheese but we've worked together for 18 years and,

personally, I will miss him very much.' Milligan mischievously adds:

'But with the way sales are going we may be working together again in

the not too distant future.'



Last year Curtis made a move to head Channel 5 Interactive that has

helped him gain digital experience that will be vital for the Viacom

role. Curtis says it is a shame he is leaving 'just as Channel 5 begins

to do some work to take this forward'. However, he talks passionately

about evolving the current model of ad revenue against internet

editorial content and finding truly creative interactive ideas.



Curtis admits that he is just starting to get excited about the Viacom

role and working with 'cradle to rave brands' as he calls them. He

points out the opportunities of working with a portfolio of brands that

cater solely for under-45s. However, he is willing to admit that his own

musical taste has changed as he's matured: 'It's pretty eclectic now.

You could describe it as everything from Bob Marley to Mahler,' he says

in another of his soundbite expressions.



A keen Chelsea fan, who regularly mixes with the Chelsea media mafia

(including the likes of Marshall, Ray Kelly and Mark Cranmer), by the

start of next season Curtis will have his feet well and truly under the

table at Viacom. But he admits that he'll still need his son to 'tell me

what's hip'.



THE CURTIS FILE

1983: TVS, sales assistant rising to London sales manager

1989: Yorkshire Television, joint sales director

1993: UK Gold/UK Living, sales controller

1996: Channel 5, deputy sales director

2000: Channel 5 Interactive, chief executive

2001: Viacom Brand Solutions, managing director



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