Paramount Network Launches, Propelling Viacom Into Premium Content Space

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Paramount Network launches tonight with a special edition of smash hit Lip Sync Battle, propelling Viacom into the premium content universe and building on the century-long storytelling tradition of fellow Viacom property Paramount Pictures.

The launch marks an important business milestone for Viacom, fulfilling a key pillar of CEO Bob Bakish’s strategic plan and cracking open potential for new marketing and advertising partnerships behind a star-studded slate that blends the best of the retiring Spike network with high-quality scripted programming.

The network will rumble to life at 9 p.m. ET with Lip Sync Battle Live: A Michael Jackson Celebration, a showcase of the legendary musician’s hits starring Neil Patrick Harris, Taraji P. Henson, Hailee Steinfeld, Laverne Cox and others.

Paramount Network completes CEO Bob Bakish’s flagship six strategy

The Paramount Network launch culminates a monumental yearlong effort to reorient Viacom under CEO Bob Bakish, consolidating resources under the company’s most iconic brands. The focus around six flagships – Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., MTV, Comedy Central, BET and Paramount Network – is a strategy Bakish had successfully implemented in his decade-long run as head of Viacom International Media Networks.

The strategy has proven successful on the domestic front as well. Nickelodeon and Nick Jr. remain the top kids brands, MTV has ignited a primetime ratings and programming resurgence, Comedy Central completed 2017 with its best ratings week of the year, and BET just completed its 16th year as the top cable network for African-Americans. The last piece was the launch of Paramount Network.

“There’s no better way to better encapsulate Viacom’s strategy change under Bob Bakish than to look at the creation and launch of the Paramount Network,” notes TBI Vision.

Paramount Network launches Viacom into the premium content game, with big stars and great stories

Paramount Network’s premium scripted content will launch Jan. 22, when Waco, co-starring Michael Shannon and Taylor Kitsch, debuts. Yellowstone starring Kevin Costner, American Woman starring Alicia Silverstone and Mena Suvari, and a re-imagining of the 80s classic Heathers will follow later this year.

“The audience has an expectation that there are going to be big names, big stars, great storytelling, great characters, and I think that’s what we have to focus on,” Paramount Network President Kevin Kay told Variety.

Paramount Network opens up tremendous partnership opportunities

The combination of captivating content, huge talent and high production generates enormous interest not just from fans, but also from advertising, distribution and creative partners who want to do business with Viacom.

“All the groups together went out and presented to both the movie studios, to our agency clients, and then to our distributors as well,” recalled Kay when asked how partners have been processing the rebrand. “People understood why we are rebranding Spike as Paramount Network, they’re excited to work with us, and the biggest thing I think that came both on the distribution side and on the ad-sales side was that clients said, ‘we want to be your partners.’”

The best of Spike is coming along

When the tribute to the King of Pop ticks to life tonight, the long-running Spike network will cease to be in the United States, gifting to Paramount Network its top unscripted programs – Ink Master, Bar Rescue, and Lip Sync Battle – plus Bellator MMA.

This mix of legacy unscripted programming establishes the net’s impressive versatility and provides a stable complement to Paramount Network’s still-evolving scripted slate.

“We’ve got scripted dramas, non-scripted in a big premium way, we’ve got scripted comedies, we’ve got docuseries, and we’ve got Mixed Martial Arts,” Kay told Deadline. “If you look around at the broadcast networks, that’s not a bad model to me. On the broadcast networks, you’ve got drama nights, you’ve got comedy nights, you’ve got sports nights. You’ve got a lot of variety for different viewers across a very broad audience. I feel that’s where we want to be.”

Nobodies will also migrate to Paramount Network, from Viacom’s TV Land. There are more original concepts in development, including sketch comedy series Browntown in collaboration with leading Latino-focused digital media brand mitú.

Paramount Network builds on Paramount Picture’s century-long legacy

Paramount Network takes its name from the rich DNA of Viacom’s Paramount Pictures, the 105-year-old Hollywood icon whose deep catalogue houses some of the most memorable films ever made, including Titanic, Forrest Gump, and the Godfather films. While Paramount Network and Paramount Pictures will operate separately, their relationship will mirror that of other Viacom properties under Bakish, in which the brands collaborate with the movie studio to maximize the reach of intellectual property.

“There’s a real big need, and there’s a want, a desire, for us all to work together really closely, to both exploit [Paramount Pictures’] library and then to help promote the movies, and then to potentially create some great programs for Paramount Network,” Kay explained.

Paramount Pictures also owns the Paramount Television production studio, which tripled its revenue in 2017 through a steady stream of high-quality content, including the Netflix sensation 13 Reasons Why, Epix’s Berlin Station, and Shooter on USA.

“There is incredible demand for high-quality television content and the reality is, there are not that many places that you can get it,” Bakish said at the at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference in December, underscoring the importance of Paramount Television.

The Paramount name resonates globally – Viacom offers a network called Paramount Channel in select markets outside of the United States. According to Bakish, it is the largest ad-supported movie channel in the world.

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