Brent Hansen first fell in love with music as a young child. Later, after working behind the scenes on everything from 'alternative' music showcase Radio with Pictures to That's Country, Hansen left New Zealand and began a 19-year run at music giant MTV, rising to one of the channel's highest positions.
Hansen studied english and history at Canterbury University, then got a Masters in English Literature. He booked bands for the university and wrote music reviews for student magazine Canta, and local paper The Press.
Staff at South Pacific Television were impressed by his writing, and he began working as a runner for the station on weekends, while studying to be a teacher. Initially Hansen worked on a project involving touring band Graham Parker and the Rumour; later that year SPT offered him a full-time job as an assistant floor manager.
"I worked on lots of projects, had lots of training on the job, and ended up fairly quickly becoming a floor manager proper with much more responsibility." Hansen found himself doing everything from live directing for Telethon to operating one of the puppets on Romper Room, and commanding multi-camera coverage of pipe band championships. The latter project saw the former drummer being told off by live events expert Malcolm Kemp for editing the footage together using percussive cuts, rather than traditional softer edits.
Through variety show That's Country, Hansen began to spend more time on music research. After being called in to do an on-camera interview with English music producer Richard James Burgess, he was invited by producer Peter Blake to join the crew behind Radio with Pictures. The late night institution played a range of music that refused to fit Ready to Roll's more commercial format.
Hansen couldn't have been happier. Radio with Pictures aimed to be "a serious snapshot of that moment in time for a music fan in New Zealand. We took it very very very seriously." In 1982 Hansen got "the ultimate job", as a director and producer on RWP during the reign of presenter Karyn Hay. After Hay's departure, Hansen brought in host (and future television producer) Richard Driver. Plans to return to academia were abandoned.
In 1986 Radio With Pictures went off air for some months, after a dispute between TVNZ and The NZ Recording Industry Association over the channel's refusal to start paying for video clips. While RWP was off-air, Hansen worked on New Zealand music show True Colours, which featured live performances by local bands in lieu of videos.
With immediate prospects for local music shows looking dire, Hansen set off for six months in Europe with wife Phillipa Dann, an actor and ex-presenter of music show Shazam. Hansen had written to MTV executives in America, proposing a visit to their offices during the trip. The timing was perfect; MTV was about to launch in Europe, and Hansen was offered a job as news producer. Hansen was unsure if he really wanted the gig, but "thought this will pay for my Kombi van to go round Europe".
Over coming years the english-language network would grow to serve more than 130 million households in 43 European territories, most of them served by local versions of the channel. Hansen rose rapidly through the ranks, and was soon chief of programming for MTV's European operations.
In 1994 Hansen launched the MTV Europe Music Awards, which quickly became one of the company's most watched shows.
Three years later he had risen to Chief Executive of MTV Networks Europe, commanding a staff of 1200 from MTV Europe's London base. By 2003 Hansen was Creative President and Editor-in-Chief of MTV International - encompassing MTV's entire empire outside of North America. The job involved branding, programme creation, and programming.
In the late 90s, Hansen decided that MTV needed to regionalise, and give each local MTV channel more say in what they played. "It was the blonde Scandinavian talking about Italian music in English to Germans," he said later. "...I always knew, coming from a little country, that in the end you're going to feel patronised if you don't feel it's relevant to you." In 2005 his hope was that the newly-launched Pan-African channel would play 50 percent African-sourced videos and music.
"We had to find ways for small countries to feel like they were part of the club", Hansen told Canterbury magazine in 2005. "The idea was to keep a centre of excellence and maintain brand excellence but have 85 percent of the decisions being made locally."
Hansen can be seen talking about his life in London in Bruce Morrison's 1999 doco Connections: The London Connection. In 2003 he criticised talent shows like American Idol for creating "manufactured stars" that despite making good TV, held little musical value.
Hansen resigned from MTV in February 2006, after almost 19 years with the company. At the time he argued that his success and long stay at the company were "100 percent" connected with his Kiwi roots, and spoke of having tried to retain the New Zealand attribute of being "direct but not arrogant", and keeping his feet on the ground.
A keen follower of New Zealand arts and sport, he was a consistent advocate for Kiwi music (mentoring influential DJ Zane Lowe) and he programmed screenings of Kiwi artist and music with pictures pioneer Len Lye during his time at MTV. Hansen talked about his enthusiasm for Lye in the 10th episode of arts programme [email protected] in 2000.
He is currently an occasional DJ, and board member of the South Bank arts centre in London.
Profile written by Ian Pryor
Updated 8 June 2018
'Brent Hansen: RWP, MTV, and the future of music' (Video interview) NZ On Screen website. Director Ian Pryor. Loaded 30 December 2013. Accessed 7 June 2018
Russell Brown, 'Brent Hansen: The Kiwi behind MTV Europe' (Interview) (Broken link) - Idealog, 2 June 2006
Unknown writer, 'Twelve Questions: Brent Hansen' (Interview) - The NZ Herald, 23 December 2014