Frank Tanki Named CMT GM as President Brian Philips Steps Down

UPDATED 11:10 A.M. Brian Philips is stepping down from his role as president of CMT. Frank Tanki has been promoted to general manager of the cable channel.

Philips announced on Thursday that he is leaving the Viacom-owned network. In a memo to the CMT staff obtained by Variety, Philips said he has been thinking of leaving for a while now, “but agreed to stay to help navigate through the recent exciting ‘brand renewal.'”

“I remain a fan and champion of each of you,” Philips wrote. “I love, live and breathe this brand. Change is difficult, especially after all we’ve endured together! Fortunately, we have the best senior staff team in place in our history, and I am confident they will continue the remarkable work we’ve done together.”

Philips has been with the network for 16 years, first as its senior vice president and general manager, then as president, assuming the latter role in 2009.

As he leaves, CMT has posted 14% year-over-year increase in the key adults 18-49 demographic. The network has also made a push into scripted programming under his leadership, most notably acquiring the drama series “Nashville” and renewing the series for its sixth season. This year, the network also debuted the original drama series “Sun Records,” which followed the early days of the famous Sun Studios in Memphis.

Philips’ exit is the latest in a series of executive departure across Viacom’s networks under restructuring taking place under new CEO Bob Bakish. Last year, longtime Viacom exec Doug Herzog stepped down about a week after Bakish took over the company. Herzog headed up the cable channels Comedy Central, VH1, Logo, Spike, and MTV.

Tanki is a 12-year Viacom veteran, having most recently served as exec VP of marketing and creative for Spike TV.

“As a fan of CMT and country music, I’m thrilled to join the team and remain committed to ensuring this iconic brand continues its upward trajectory as the leading destination for country music and culture,” said Tanki. “My focus is to successfully navigate CMT through the changing media landscape and extend the power of the brand’s voice.”

Tanki will continue to report to Kevin Kay, president of Spike, TV Land, and CMT. Jayson Dinsmore, exec VP of development and production for CMT, will now report to Keith Cox, president of production and development for Paramount Network and TV Land.

“CMT is one of the most distinct brands in all of media and Frank is the perfect leader to guide the team to new summits of success,” said Kevin Kay, President of Spike, TV Land and CMT. “I am confident that Frank will apply the same ingenuity that has been the hallmark of his career at Viacom to ensure that CMT continues to thrive, while keeping the network true to its brand.”

In a plan unveiled in February for revitalizing Viacom’s embattled U.S. cable group, Bakish identified six core cable brands that would be the focus of the significant resources going forward — BET, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., MTV, Comedy Central and Spike, which will re-launch as the Paramount Network in January 2018. CMT was not among the brands identified as a core channel.

CMT had in recent years begun to venture into scripted programming, launching comedy “Still the King” starring Billy Ray Cyrus and picking up drama “Nashville” after ABC canceled the show.

Read Philips’ full memo below.

More to come…

Today I’m writing to share the news that I’ve decided to step down as President of CMT.

For some time, I’ve been contemplating a change (more on that soon), but agreed to stay to help navigate through the recent exciting “brand renewal”. This was a tough decision; I remain a fan and champion of each of you. I love, live and breathe this brand. Change is difficult, especially after all we’ve endured together! Fortunately, we have the best senior staff team in place in our history, and I am confident they will continue the remarkable work we’ve done together.

I cherish the time I’ve spent here with you over the last 16 years. I joined CMT as an ambitious-but-unenlightened wayward radio character. I had the early good fortune to learn from masters of the medium, the creative firebrands who built the glorious MTV Networks group. Later, learning from Nickelodeon’s geniuses was another invaluable experience. I’m glad I don’t have to list my many brilliant mentors here. They are known to all, of course, their names are legend.

Most of all, I learned so much about TV from you, my awe at your abilities has simply never ceased. We at CMT grew up together and I’m forever changed and made better by each of you. I think of the early days when we worked from a shelled-out Opryland building on a dime-store budget, a small country music video jukebox in a town nobody wanted to visit. Fast forward to today, Nashville is one of the most vibrant cities in the world. CMT has forged its place in this dazzling new environment, all while remaining true to the brand promise.

I leave you as CMT enters what we all believe will be a very strong era. Ratings are up across all dayparts, driving more than 7 months of year-over-year growth. We’ve attracted new fans and advertisers with “Nashville” and successfully converted them to regular CMT viewership. Our creative resurgence continues and the channel looks better than ever! Recent CMT Music Awards and Crossroads have been widely acclaimed as two of the very best we’ve ever done. Our summer line-up of originals is solid, and we’re developing some innovative new series that will ensure our future.

I’ll be sticking around awhile to help with the transition and look forward to personal time with you. I will swing through NY and Hollywood offices to further express my gratitude. Your friendship and kindness mean the world to me, and all of the outrageous fun and laughter we’ve shared will be what I remember most fondly. Keep the faith.

More soon, but I wanted you to hear this first from me. Have a great holiday weekend!

With much love, Brian

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