MTV Executive Amy Doyle on Madonna's Aretha Tribute, Wooing Young Fans and the 'Drag Race' Phenomenon

Amy Doyle
Jai Lennard

Doyle, photographed on Aug. 14, 2018 at her office in New York, says recent growth is attracting more talent like Martha Stewart: “Who ever thought  she’d be on VH1?”

The MTV/VH1/Logo Group GM is overseeing MTV’s new era as part of an all-female team directly reporting to president Chris McCarthy.

"There were some ­naysayers out there that wanted to give up on us, but we're back," says Amy Doyle, the pride ­resonating in her voice.

She's speaking of MTV’s resurgence: After a five-year decline, the cable ­channel is experiencing an upturn, including four consecutive quarters of growth among 18-to-34 year olds. The surge has been bolstered by a number of shows including reboots of TRL and Jersey Shore: Family Vacation, the outlet’s highest-rated new show in six years. The news is even better at VH1, which has experienced 12 straight ­quarters of growth in the 18-to-49 demographic led by such shows as RuPaul’s Drag Race and Love & Hip Hop.

For Doyle, the victory feels personal. A nearly 20-year veteran of MTV ­parent Viacom who has worked with MTV for almost her whole tenure, Doyle was named GM of MTV, VH1 and Logo Group in January 2017.

On Aug. 20, Doyle presided over the MTV Video Music Awards from New York's Radio City Music Hall, the site of the first VMAs in 1984. During the show, MTV announced a reboot of its ­reality show The Hills and the launch of its midterm-elections campaign, +1 The Vote, which includes a digital registration tool and plans for 1,000 parties and events at polls in all 50 states. (The show also featured a rambling tribute to Aretha Franklin by Madonna, though she spoke more about her own career than the Queen of Soul's.)

Doyle, 48, grew up in Bellingham, Mass., until she was 13, when her father ­transferred to Long Valley, N.J., "where my love affair with Bruce Springsteen began." She spoke to Billboard about MTV's and VH1's growth, as well as ­engaging young fans in social ­activism while keeping them tuned in across all media platforms.

Billboard: Before arriving at MTV, you worked at a number of radio stations. What skills do you use from your radio days?

Amy Dole: One of my radio bosses said, "You got to give people what they want, and they want hits." And certainly, when I got to MTV, it was all about the hits. By the way, that philosophy still exists in that when you look at some of the things we're doing now where we're reviving iconic franchises [like Jersey Shore], it's because they were beloved then and there's still a nostalgia factor. Maybe you evolve it, you put a new twist on it, but you don't have to reinvent the wheel every single time.

The TV ratings for the VMAs have been declining in recent years with Aug. 20’s show drawing 2.25 million viewers and a 1.1. rating for adults 18-49. However, MTV estimated that video content streams rose to 141.6 million, up from 76 million last year. How vital are TV ratings versus social media engagement?

We’re well aware that not everybody watches the TV screen anymore, and we know that we have a huge audience that just consumes our content through the social and digital platforms, so we’d look at it holistically. One isn’t more important than the other. You experience the VMAs through Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, obviously on TV. As we look at how we build that brand, it’s really about how we also build ­content for every ­platform where fans are consuming ­content. We are putting as much emphasis on developing content for all platforms.

Madonna received some backlash for her tribute to Aretha Franklin at the VMAs. Why did you choose her?

We felt the Detroit connection was ­important, a city known for its ­musical roots and a place near and dear to Aretha’s heart.

RuPaul's Drag Race is up for 12 Emmy Awards, the most ever for VH1 in an Emmy season. What does that mean in terms of prestige for VH1?

It means so much. The strategy behind moving the show from Logo to VH1 [in 2017] is that Logo has only so much ­distribution, and as soon as we had heard that we weren't going to be able to get more distribution from Logo, we were like, "This show deserves the biggest ­audience ­possible." We believed that if more people were exposed to this show, we would ­convert more fans. And that there was a real nice overlap too between Logo and the VH1 audience in that there's a lot of diversity across both of those brands. A couple of months ago, Leslie Jones from [Saturday Night Live] tweeted she had just discovered it in its ninth season. So a lot of people were finding it for the first time because it was on VH1. I can't walk through my neighborhood on the night it's on ­without passing five bars that are throwing RuPaul's Drag Race parties.

You launched a campaign at the VMAs to get out the vote for the midterm elections. What is MTV's part in promoting youth activism?

Our mission statement is to celebrate youth culture from escapism to ­activism, and that has always been part of MTV's DNA. One of the things we did [that] we're super proud of this year is we ­supported the National School Walkout, and we went dark for 17 minutes across all of our platforms and channels. We leveraged our substantial, multi-platform footprint to ­support these extraordinary young people who are trying to change the world and make it a better place. Our goal is to continue to find ways in which we can hand them the microphone and amplify their efforts.

MTV and VH1 feature a lot of unscripted TV. What role does music still play on both channels?

It still plays a very big role. We look at how we can weave music into ­everything that we do. We have our tent poles like the VMAs, we work music into the [MTV] Movie & TV Awards, and it has its own category. We also have a global ­emerging-artists campaign called "Artists to Watch." TRL we brought back just about a year ago. We learned a lot and sort of shifted and pivoted our strategy, but we are still very much committed to that. Cardi B came out of Love & Hip-Hop, [and] Remy Ma [was also on the show].

You're one of many female department heads at Viacom. How does the strength of women in upper management affect what we see on the air?

A lot. When I left radio to come to MTV, it was so exciting to see so many women in leadership roles, and a lot of that was because of [former MTV Networks ­chairman/CEO] Judy McGrath, who had put a lot of women in senior roles. We have even more women in very senior roles who have a seat at the table. For [MTV/VH1/Logo president] Chris McCarthy's direct reports, we're 100 ­percent female. And almost half are diverse. What that does is brings a lot of different points of view to the table, a lot of great meaningful discussion. A lot of women are watching our channels. Now they're represented not only on the screen but behind the screen as well. We want the young women in more junior roles here to feel like they have a career path that can take them all the way to the top here.

This article originally appeared in the Aug. 25 issue of Billboard.


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