The move comes as MTV parent Viacom prepares for a possible merger with CBS. Executives at Viacom want to make sure it looks like they're doing everything they can to turn around their struggling cable channels.
"Chris has infused every brand he's led with creativity, strategic clarity and distinctive talent—driving results that defy this extraordinarily competitive landscape," said Doug Herzog, president of the Viacom Music and Entertainment Group. "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."
Viacom has been one of the poorest performers among media companies and was recently the focus of a boardroom battle that led to the family of Sumner Redstone, which controls Viacom, pushing out CEO Philippe Dauman. The Redstones also control CBS and both companies are studying potential combinations.
VH1 has been a bright spot at Viacom. McCarthy was named general manager of VH1 in 2015, and under him VH1 was one of the fastest-growing entertainment on cable and had its biggest year-over-year ratings growth in over 15 yeard during fiscal 2016. It has three of the top unscripted series on cable including Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta.
"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," said McCarthy in a statement. "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."
Atkins joined MTV late last year from Discovery and refilled the network's programming pipeline, working with high profile talent including Mark Burnett and Zac Efron, although most of those shows have not yet gotten on the air.
Turning around MTV, which has been adrift for years, would take time, but sources said Herzog and other senior Viacom executives were under pressure to show results now. Putting an executive who has demonstrated the ability to quickly increase ratings would show that Viacom was working urgently to turn MTV around.
Atkins could have worked under McCarthy but decided not to. He will remain a consultant. He talked a bit about his plans on his Facebook page (see below.)
Prior to joining VH1, Chris McCarthy oversaw MTV2 and Logo. McCarthy was named general manager of MTV2 in 2010 and went on to launch hits Guy Code and Nick Cannon Presents: Wild 'N Out. Previously, McCarthy served as executive VP for MTV. He began his career at Viacom at mtvU before rising to be named general manager for the college network.
Here's what Atkins posted on his Facebook page Monday:
It has been an amazing ride at MTV and I’ve loved every minute of it - especially all the incredible people I have gotten to work with. The team at MTV is like family and I am rooting for them. Thanks to all of you!
And thanks so much already for those of you who have reached out with words of wisdom and support. It is deeply appreciated. The most frequent questions - “What are you doing next?” and “How can I help you?” I actually have no answers for at the moment. But, I love how supportive you all are. It’s quite inspiring.
My immediate answer? I’m going to catch up on some sleep and spend some time with the kids who aren’t entirely sure they know what I look like anymore.
But I’m also going to go on a bit of a walkabout and follow the wisdom of the crowd as to what to do next. You all know me and know what I’m good at (and bad at). I’m curious to explore, have coffees, meet people, help out in any way that I can.
So drop me a line, let’s grab a coffee/meal/drink (on me) and see what sorta trouble we can cause together.
Best - Sean