The music maker

WILLIAM Roedy has a dream: to make MTV available to every household across the globe. And, while the MTV Networks International president may be already halfway there, he acknowledges it is a long road that he still has to travel.

Mr Roedy has drawn up ambitious global plans for the New York-based Viacom division but, then, he is in a position to do so.

Since joining the network in 1989 as chief executive and managing director of MTV Europe (he was made president of MTV Networks Europe last April and promoted again to his present position in September 1994), he has seen to the successful expansion of the network's presence in that region. MTV Europe's distribution has catapulted from six million to 61 million households and reached an audience of around 120 million.

But, with the launch of MTV Mandarin and the English-language MTV Asia in April and May, respectively, the MTV global chief has switched his sights to Asia.

Although MTV has already made an appearance in Hong Kong with STAR TV, the network pulled out a year ago when relations broke down after Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation bought ruling shares.

'When Murdoch bought STAR, it basically created an option for us to opt out of the contract,' Mr Roedy says. 'We elected to start all over again because it gave us greater control over our destiny.' But having to restructure MTV Asia and re-negotiate new vehicles with which to broadcast the channel has resulted in a year-long absence from Hong Kong viewers.

'For the viewers it may have been longer than I would have liked but we weren't completely off channel. We've had a presence not only with our personnel . . . We've continually been talking to distributors, clients, advertisers, production people and so forth,' he adds.

So what has been the problem? 'No problem,' Mr Roedy is quick to reply. 'I just wanted to make sure we got it right. There's not an urgent rush because it's a long road to Asia . . . and we've actually launched a much better two channels because we took the time. We're quite happy with what's happened.' MTV Mandarin reaches Taiwan, China, Singapore and 17 other countries while MTV Asia reaches households in 30 countries, including Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and India. Yet Hong Kong still remains an elusive market for the network.

But that doesn't worry the broadcast veteran, who spent 10 years at Home Box Office, because he has been faced with the situation many times before. 'There are always obstructions and we somehow always find a way to cut through that.

'We're nowhere near a deal with Wharf [Cable], of course, but we're talking to them and they're only one of several that we're talking to in Hong Kong,' he says.

'Hong Kong is obviously a very important market for us and we would like to be here as soon as possible but we're not desperate. We want to strike the right deals with the right players. But we will be in Hong Kong in some form or other. Give up? Never give up!' Since being made international president, Mr Roedy has spent more of his time on planes than in his London office. With the responsibility for Viacom's MTV Europe, MTV Latino, MTV Asia, MTV Mandarin, MTV Brazil, MTV Japan, and, not to mention the international expansion of VH-1 and MTV: Music Television, resting squarely on his shoulders, travel has become a daily affair for the 46-year-old bachelor.

But the youthful American is used to life away from home. An Army man, Mr Roedy has served in Vietnam and at NATO bases in Italy, and spent eight years in Latin America. If he had his way, his identification papers would probably read - Nationality: International; Address: London; Home: Window seat, bulkhead.

'I don't think of myself as an American . . . I've spent more of my life outside America than inside,' he says. 'I travel all over the region - Taiwan, Bangkok, Thailand, the Philippines and, especially Japan because MTV has a joint venture with MTV Japan. I have many homes but my most common one is probably, window seat, bulkhead.' Having an international perspective has become a strong quality injected into MTV offices throughout the world to help them achieve a blend of cultures in their programming.

'This is a bit of an anecdote,' Mr Roedy laughs, 'but in Europe, for example, we have 400 employees and only five of them are Americans. We have 22 different nationalities.

'At one time we had traditional enemies in the same office. We had Serbs and Croatians sitting next to each other, Turks and Greek Cypriots and recently we had a Lebanese alongside an Israeli.

'The same thing is true in Latino and we'll have the same in Asia. We uplink and originate from the region - not from New York, LA or Atlanta.

'This ultimately results in a channel that is locally driven, that looks at a range of international programming to bring to the bigger picture.' And, the 'bigger picture' is what Mr Roedy feels that youths are looking for these days.

'That's one of the great things about our audience. They're young and technologically comfortable with developments and concerned about some social issues,' he says.

'In Asia, particularly, there is a curiosity for the bigger picture, the unifying themes, and music is such a great unifying theme, so they go hand-in-hand.' Despite being a bachelor with no children 'unfortunately', Mr Roedy keeps in touch with the younger generation through his staff who are often only in their early 20s.

'We usually hire people who are young, without experience. It's often their first job. I'm probably an exception, but I like to think of myself as young-at-heart,' he adds.

Critics point out that MTV's absence from the region has given their closest rivals, Star TV's Channel V, a headstart and indeed, Channel V head Don Ateyo has declared that the latter has 'set the foundations for a truly Asian channel'.

'The reason is because we basically taught them how to do it,' remarks Mr Roedy, while acknowledging that both stations' playlist will have 'a lot of similarities'.

Mr Roedy eventually hopes to bring music videos of Asian artists to other MTV channels around the world and, perhaps, help some of them make it on the international scene.

'We've worked very hard to do that in Japan and Latin America and we'll do likewise in Asia.

'We'll pick groups, get behind them in any number of ways, support and help develop, and try and make them international,' he says.

'We won't take them because they come from a certain place, but because we feel there's an international potential. We think it's only a matter of time and, someday, there'll be a major star - a Whitney Houston, Madonna, Michael Jackson, whatever - from Asia.' Despite the cultural and religious sensitivities in Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, Mr Roedy says that MTV has not, as yet, run into any censorship problems although he admits that their approach has been to go cautiously.

'We don't come in [to a country] and say, 'this is the way it should be'. We're not going to go in like gangbusters and give a tour of MTV that doesn't match the audience. We're not going to tread on any toes,' he explains.

'It's a common misconception that the audience is very different from the institutional constituency. There is some difference, because youths are always a little irreverent, but not as much as people might think.

'Once the institutional constituency sits down to watch us, they usually realise that we help deliver a lot of messages to the youths. And, having special programme blocks for particular countries also helps in catering to the diversified tastes of each place.' Even as negotiations go on for MTV to make its reappearance in Hong Kong, Mr Roedy has already begun looking to other places for MTV Networks to expand.

China's huge potential has not escaped the MTV boss who has already been in meetings with Chinese officials. 'It's a long process. We don't want to go in uninvited. We want to make sure that they'll feel comfortable. The strategy for China is to go slowly,' he says.

Also on the agenda is South Africa - for which they hope to get a licence to start in early 1996 - the Middle East and Australia.

'The idea is to have three regions: Europe, which is to include Africa and the Middle East; Asia, which not now but hopefully will include Australia and Japan; and Latino, which includes all of South America and also MTV Brazil.' With that, the MTV Networks' (International) head honcho should have the world pretty much covered.