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
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
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
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