March 16, 2007 12:48 PM PDT

Viacom's Web guru plans for the future

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If Viacom continues to engage in a corporate shoving match with Google's YouTube, Mika Salmi may well be the entertainment conglomerate's secret weapon.

Salmi is a hybrid of sorts--a hipster businessman who helped discover the rock band Nine Inch Nails, and a technology whiz who's now president of Global Digital Media for Viacom's MTV Networks. He is also the founder of Atom Entertainment, the Internet video and game pioneer acquired by MTV last August for $200 million.

At MTV Networks, made up of such properties as MTV Music Television, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central, Salmi is the person who determines where Steven Colbert, SpongeBob SquarePants and South Park's Cartman appear on the Web. With Viacom embroiled in a $1 billion legal fight with YouTube, Salmi could play a key role behind the scenes, planning Viacom's tech strategy as it tries to embrace the Internet while avoiding the embrace of the site it claims in its suit is responsible for literally hundreds of thousands of copyright violations.

In an interview with CNET News.com at Viacom's Manhattan offices, Salmi said he had little to do with the negotiations with YouTube and that he hoped a licensing deal could be worked out. If it can't, he said he's confident MTV Networks and Viacom will be just fine.

Salmi believes big "portal sites" such as YouTube and MySpace.com will give way to niche sites that appeal to audiences with special interests. This, said Salmi, is a game MTV Networks knows how to play. The company has been pinpointing niches in music and entertainment for decades, and MTV Networks has more than 150 Web sites and 136 TV channels around the world, he said.

salmi
Mika Salmi

"When I started here, I said we should go deeper and make all these TV shows and all these brands into their own communities and worlds," Salmi said. "If the audience likes (The Colbert Report), they want to get to Colbert as quickly as possible. They don't want to necessarily go through Comedy Central...The thought is that we should go from having dozens of brands to hundreds of brands."

Salmi, 41, worked at the record label EMI Group before founding Atom in 1995. Atom consisted of game sites Shockwave and AddictingGames.com, and video sites Addictingclips.com and AtomFilms, a site specializing in short films.

"He really helped develop a new category, which was short clips online," said Todd Chanko, an analyst with Jupiter Research. Salmi stuck it out with video when almost everybody else threw in the towel because of poor picture quality and slow download speeds, said Josh Felser, the CEO of the video-sharing site Grouper.

"Mika is very well respected in online video because he kept his vision intact," said Felser, who sold Grouper to Sony last year. "He survived all the trouble during the dot-com collapse and ended up selling his company for a bucket load of money."

Salmi said that after Viacom bought Atom, members of MTV Network's brass asked him what he would do if he were running the company. Salmi didn't hesitate to speak his mind.

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"I had the answer instantaneously," recalled Salmi, as he gazed out his 28-floor office, with its view of New Jersey and the Hudson River. "I said 'This is what we're going to do.' I think they were surprised that I had it so quickly."

The knock against Viacom, of course, is that it's too old-media to understand the Web. "Think about all the ways that they could have monetized the tremendous youth-brand equity and youth audience they collected," Chanko said. "All of their people are using instant messaging. They didn't have the technology to develop it on their own, but why didn't they think about branding a third-party system?"

Trying to buck that perception, Salmi has championed several tech projects at the media giant. He sponsored the idea of offering the so-called embed code that allows fans of popular programs to post clips to their MySpace pages or blogs. The concept is similar to YouTube's own tools for embedding videos on other sites.

Salmi is also attempting to merge content across TV and Web platforms. Web shows are new on-air series that feature programming clips from Comedycentral.com and AtomFilms.

One of the tasks that Salmi is determined to tackle is how to exploit technology developed in varying areas of the vast Viacom empire. In the United Kingdom, for example, MTV Networks has Flux, a 24-hour user-generated television channel. Users go to a Web site and post clips and then the content appears on TV. In Japan, MTV Networks has an offering that lets people move their mobile content to TV.

Salmi said the Web isn't going to replace Viacom's TV revenues anytime soon. "I personally believe a big part of my job is helping television," he said. "It shouldn't be where the digital people are here and the TV people throw some content over a wall and the digital people throw some back. Someone with a creative vision behind a TV show or an online game should drive that vision through all platforms."

Asked for a hint on how the YouTube conflict might end, Salmi wouldn't say. He noted, however, that he's friendly with YouTube founders Steve Chen and Chad Hurley and still hopes for a resolution.

"There was never any strategy at Viacom that said, 'We don't want people to watch our videos (at YouTube),'" Salmi said. "We want to be a distributor. We have distribution deals with iTunes and Comcast and recently we did a deal with (online video company) Joost. We didn't want to do it all ourselves. But if someone is actually making money on our content we tell them that, 'If you want to distribute our content we should have a deal with you.' If it's a professional relationship, then there should be a business deal.

"We just couldn't come to an agreement with YouTube," he added. "But we certainly want to be there."

See more CNET content tagged:
Viacom Inc., MTV Networks, MTV, YouTube, online video

16 comments

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MTV hasn't been relevant for years.
MTV hasn't been relevant for years. They gave up showing music videos years ago. It made no sense when they bothered to celebrate their 25th anniversary. MTV could be still bringing attention to new music like they did in the early 80s but they stopped caring about music years ago. Given that they don't show music videos, it doesn't make sense that they're suing over their theft.
Posted by lingsun (482 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not only that,
How did they get the rights to all the music videos? Don't they belong to the artists and record labels?
Posted by CommandHerTaco (43 comments )
Link Flag
Boycott Viacom
If Viacom can't cope with the future I recommend we all stop
having anything to do with Viacom's large multinational corporate
portfolio. I for one will miss John Stewart on Comedy Central. But
then there is always Keith Olbermann.
Posted by offonoff (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hey, I was unintentially boycotting them anyway
I have better things to do with my time. Like watching grass grow or arguing with street people.
Posted by mn39202 (32 comments )
Link Flag
Mac Users
While I agree that MTV hasn't been relevant for music lovers in a very long time, they've evolved into a very different content provider.

They've also tried to have a huge presence on the internet. However, I guess they made a "deal" with Microsoft and us Mac users are left in the cold. It really pisses me off that while us mac users represent a very small fraction of net users, it doesn't mean we should be discarded. After all, aren't we the artsy fartsy crowd?
Posted by howiloved (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
MTV
"MTV, I said MTV, I said MTV.. get off the air NOOOW! - Dead Kennedy's 1984"

Polished so bad, it's own media strategy has been discovered by the young generation as a waist of media space. Shooo!
Posted by bradyme (43 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Viacom vs Youtube
Why couldn't Viacom agree some sort of deal with Youtube, surely that is more beneficial to them then suing for $1 billion which by the way is a ridiculous amount.

Josh Chandler
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.techoriphic.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.techoriphic.com</a>
Posted by jchandler15 (30 comments )
Reply Link Flag
If people are making profit, Viacom has rights AND
Same with the GPL, it has nothing to do with money but intellectual ownership. Open source contracts are intellectual ownership mainly allowing for free distribution.
If the owner of the original product wants to tack on a financial contract he has the right to do so, even with Creative Commons I think it's done that way. Unless they want YouTube to pay up front then I am not sure if that's good although iI am familiar with that business model.
It's the distribution model that should be unencumbered and if people like YouTube are making money they must give Viacom a cut. The open source media distribution model should be successful with media like it was with software this year.

Basically YouTube is opening a user generated profit system this year. Shouldn't Viacom get money based on the amount of clips shown or does YouTube have to pay up front?
Posted by Blito (436 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Viacom is a content company, they want big $$$
I am sure ViaCom wants a ridiculous cut that Google cannot afford to give. Thats why there has not been any settlement. Remember Google settles with several Record Labels (except Universal) just before they acquired YouTube. Google has done their homework, they will fight this.

Oh, as John C Dvorak has said, Google could really cut Viacom and his subsidiaries off the Search Engine index!. Just doing this a week will hurt Viacom like mad. Then Viacom will file another "unfair business practise" suit. What ?. Viacom has so much money why don't they build their own search engine. Oh, they tried to their own YT but not getting the traffic... wonder why ???.
Posted by E34touring (19 comments )
Link Flag
Salmi is a hybrid of sorts-
No offense but Salmi's background is old-school media and some niche casual gaming. Not what I call mainstream internet by any means.

What can he do ?. Short clips ?. That it ?.

GooTube hopefully grows into ad sponsored and paid membership system in future. That revenue stream is bound to catch on. I am talk short and long clip, even HD clips, especially HD clips. You think they will let Joost and Apple take the revenues ?. Nah, Google is too smart for this, they are diversifying as well...Go Google : Take Down these old-school giants one at a time. They could help Apple with distribution to AppleTV boxes since they have more infrastructure than any other company.
Posted by E34touring (19 comments )
Reply Link Flag
MTV dead at 25!
Here is a great read about what is really happening to MTV:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.bubblegeneration.com/2007/03/i-want-my-mtv-20.cfm" target="_newWindow">http://www.bubblegeneration.com/2007/03/i-want-my-mtv-20.cfm</a>
Posted by AnimeFan5 (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
MTV yesterdays hero
If Mika Salmi is so in touch and such a forward thinking guru, why didn't he come up with Youtube first? The world has passed MTV by. And why shouldn't it? It's stale and yesterdays hero
Posted by garrywdm (44 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Viacom is a little late in the game
Reminds me of SCO Group.
Posted by microsoft slayer (174 comments )
Reply Link Flag
How much does Viacom get per Viewer on TV?
If they want to rake in the cash they should set up a micro pay system.

1. The viewer sends in $15 or $20 by credit card to there Viacom account.

2. The user pays $0.50 or less per show they want to watch. The show has a visible watermark identifying the account that downloaded the show in the lower left hand corner of the vid.

3. If someone starts mass distributing the shows they downloaded, Viacom knows who to go after.

I know for a fact that Viacom gets far less than fifty cents per viewer on ad based distribution.
Posted by ralfthedog (1589 comments )
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