Tom Freston

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Tom Freston
Tom Freston.jpg
Tom Freston at the 2011 Time 100 gala.
Born (1945-11-22) November 22, 1945 (age 78)
Alma mater Saint Michael's College (BA)
New York University (MBA)
Years active1979–present
Known forCEO of Viacom's MTV Networks (1987–2004)
Board member of One Campaign
Moby Group
Margaret Ellen Badali
(m. 1980,divorced)
(m. 1998;div. 2014)

Thomas E. Freston (born November 22, 1945) is an American media executive and investor.


Early life and education

Freston grew up in Rowayton, Connecticut. He received a Bachelor of Arts from Saint Michaels

College 1967 and an Master of Business Administration from New York University (1969).


Freston began his career in advertising at Benton & Bowles in 1970, which later merged with D’Arcy. In 1973, after a year of travel, he moved to South Asia to start a textile and clothing business, Hindu Kush, and worked and lived in New Delhi, India and Kabul, Afghanistan for eight years.

Returning to the United States in 1980, he joined Warner-Amex Satellite Entertainment Company (WASEC), a pioneer in the new field of cable television programming. He was one of the founding members of the team that created the music video channel MTV in 1981. As head of marketing, he worked on the “I Want My MTV” campaign that help make the new network a cultural phenomenon. In 1987 he became President and CEO of MTV Networks, a job held for 17 years. MTV Networks launched and operated networks including, Nickelodeon, Nick at Nite, VH1, Comedy Central, TV Land, Country Music Television, Noggin, and others. Its hit shows like SpongeBob, Dora the Explorer, Blues Clues, Rugrats, The Real World, Beavis & Butthead, the Video Music Awards, Unplugged, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Behind the Music, Storytellers, 120 Minutes, South Park became pop culture mainstays.

Freston grew MTV Networks into a global multi-billion-dollar business, expanding into international television, film production and product licensing and merchandising. MTV became the first international television network, with separate feeds in over 100 countries on every continent with hundreds of millions of viewers. MTV Networks produced 40 feature films with sister division Paramount that grossed over $2.1 billion worldwide. Films included Beavis & Butthead Do America, Napoleon Dynamite, Jackass, SpongeBob, Election, Zoolander, Team America, and others.


In 2004, after Viacom President and COO Mel Karmazin stepped down, Freston was named Co-President and COO of Viacom (along with Leslie Moonves). Freston oversaw MTV Networks, Paramount Pictures, Famous Music Publishing, and Simon & Schuster.

On January 1, 2006, Viacom was split into suits two separate companies – the second Viacom, led by Freston, and CBS Corporation headed by Moonves. Both were under National Amusements administration until 2019.

In September 2006, Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone stunned the entertainment industry when he fired Freston from his position of CEO. One of the chief reasons was that Freston had not moved decisively to buy MySpace, then the most popular social networking site. Instead, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation purchased it for $580 million. Redstone believed that the failure to acquire MySpace contributed to a drop in Viacom stock price in 2006. Freston successor as CEO, Philippe Dauman, was quoted as saying, "Never ever let another competitor beat us to the trophy." Redstone told interviewer Charlie Rose that losing MySpace had been "humiliating," adding, "MySpace was sitting there for the taking for $500 million. Murdoch's company ended up selling MySpace, which had largely declined with the rise of rival social network Facebook. In 2012 News Corporation sold MySpace for $35 million.


Freston formed a consulting and investment company, Firefly3 LLC, that invested in media related start-ups.

In 2007 he became the Board Chair of the ONE Campaign, an advocacy group fighting poverty and preventable disease in Africa founded by Bono, lead singer of U2, in 2004. As of 2024, he has served as Board Chair for 17 years. ONE is funded by the Gates Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Open Society Foundation, and others.

In 2007, he returned to Afghanistan to work with the Moby Group's Tolo TV, the leading private broadcaster in the country. Moby Group went on to launch other media businesses in India, Ethiopia, and other frontier markets. Freston served as both advisor and board member until 2018.

In 2008, he became advisor to Oprah Winfrey for her launch of the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), a partnership with Discovery Networks.

In 2011 Freston became a Senior Advisor to The Raine Group, a boutique merchant bank specializing in the technology, media, and telecom businesses (TMT). There he served on the boards of Vice Media, Margaritaville Enterprises, and Imagine Entertainment.

He has served on the board of New America, a Washington DC-based think tank. He is a trustee Emeritus at the American Museum of Natural History and has served on the board of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He has written 30+ travel related articles for Vanity Fair.

He was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame in 2010. He was inducted into the Cable Hall of Fame in 2005. In 2005 Mr. Freston was cited in Time magazine's initial '100 Most Influential People in the World' issue. He has received many industry awards and honors.

Personal life

In 1980, Freston married Margaret Ellen Badali. They had two children and later divorced.

In 1998, Freston married Kathy Law, a former model, self-help author, and health and wellness expert. They divorced in 2014.


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