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Viacom Chief Says ‘Reimagining’ of MTV Is in Works

After MTV launched in 1981, a hot ad campaign prompted thousands of young viewers to shout its slogan: I want my MTV!” In recent times, it seems, that phrase has not been on as many lips.

With MTV suffering the defection of viewers who consume video entertainment in new ways, such as on tablets, that aren’t always counted in Nielsen tallies, the network’s owner, Viacom, is preparing to unveil a broad overhaul in coming weeks, said Philippe Dauman, the company’s executive chairman  and chief executive, in an interview.

Executives will debut “a more significant re-imagining of the brand,” said Dauman, when hosting an “upfront” presentation for advertisers in April. “I’m confident we are going to get there,” he said of plotting a revival of the network famous for everything from hosts known as VJs to the reality program “Jersey Shore.”  Ad revenue at the network has been choppy in recent years, falling in both 2013 and 2014, according to data from market-research firm SNL Kagan.

MTV’s primetime ratings among viewers between 18 and 49 fell about 8% for the week ending March 20, according to research from Todd Juenger, a media-industry analyst for Bernstein. Quarter to date, however, the network’s viewership in that category is up an equivalent amount, thanks to new episodes of shows like “Teen Mom” and “The Shannara Chronicles.” With advertisers expected to earmark more money for TV’s annual upfront market this year, boosting MTV seems like a critical move.

Some steps have already been taken. Sean Atkins, an executive vice president of digital media and strategy at Discovery Communications, was named MTV’s president last year. In February, Viacom renamed Palladia, a digital-cable network devoted to live music and rechristened it “MTV Live” and said it would be devoted more closely to live music.  And MTV has made little secret of its desire to revive MTV News, hiring staffers who can chronicle national politics and popular culture and place those reports online, on the network or on new vehicles like podcasts. Executives in coming weeks are expected to detail new plans to strengthen MTV’s connection to music and pop culture.

“This next broadcast year is going to be a landmark for that brand,” Dauman said.

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