MTV Networks Europe

On 1 July, MTV Networks Europe will launch three digital channels in the UK and Ireland, in addition to the 10 channels it already owns.

For an organisation like MTV Networks Europe, which is a division of US media giant Viacom, this may seem like a drop in the ocean.

But this expansion has been a necessary step to stave off competition from European rivals which have attempted to cash in on a market on which MTV has had a stranglehold since its inception in 1987.

MTV Networks Europe has challenged the invasion by “localising” each station to reflect the audience of the region into which it is transmitted.

And 1999 has seen it put this plan into action by going to more homes in Germany and expanding its feed into Spain, Portugal and Greece.

But the plan to localise has not been confined to its product, it also applies to the workings of the in-house legal team.

Svenja Geissmar, head of legal at MTV Networks Europe, says: “A big focus for our business over the past three or four years has been regionalisation.

“We have decentralised the organisation and put much of the decision making out into the regional areas.”

However, for legal advice outside the UK, MTV has opted for local firms as opposed to the international links which Linklaters & Alliance, Denton Hall and Richards Butler pride themselves on.

Geissmar says: “So many people feel it is convenient to use branches of UK firms but we felt that wasn’t necessarily always the most appropriate route.”

She adds: “We have actually gone out to many of those territories, done beauty parades and selected which is the best firm locally. Often that is a local firm.

“It is a good idea to have a strong local practice so the particular region can work together with the local employees of that firm.”

However, apart from one lawyer based in Hamburg who reports to Geissmar, London remains the hub of all legal activity, with each of the lawyers handling one or more of the 13 channels to give them a broad range of work.

Geissmar says: “Effectively, you have channel lawyers who work on a whole spread of work.

“This can include anything from selling the channel to cable and satellite operators to production agreements, handling finance, tax and employment issues, among a whole range of commercial issues.”

Much of the in-house team’s work revolves around arranging the huge annual MTV Music Awards, negotiating contracts with advertisers and sponsors, and working with the Independent Television Commission.

Geissmar says that although the majority of work is handled in-house, when resources and time permit, there is always something being handled by external advisers.

“I would say we work extremely hard for the business we have and although six lawyers is enough to handle the work we have at the moment, business is constantly expanding.

“Therefore we are always looking at ways to resource the department in such a way as to meet the needs of the business,” she says.

Which means taking advice from outside the company. Richards Butler and Olswang are counted among MTV’s main firms for general commercial advice and distribution work respectively, while Linklaters, Denton Hall and Bristows are used for competition advice.

As MTV steps further into using “new media” – such as its interactive channel M2 and digital TV – the in-house team has also had to learn how to deal with IT law.

“It is a little bit of a learning curve but people who work on those issues internally are now

fairly expert in those areas,” says Geissmar.

Svenja Geissmar
Head of legal
MTV Networks Europe

Organisation MTV Networks Europe
Sector Media
Market capitalisation Undisclosed
Employees 770
Legal function Six lawyers
Head of legal Svenja Geissmar
Reporting to Simon Guild, chief operating officer
Main location for lawyers London
Main law firms Olswang, Richards Butler, Linklaters & Alliance, Denton Hall, Bristows