CMT Awards’ Immersive Fans Festival Boosts Viacom’s Live Events Strategy

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

More than 2 million fans dialed up the CMT Awards earlier this month, watching across three Viacom networks (CMT, Paramount Network and TV Land), as Blake Shelton took Video of the Year and Male Video of the Year for I’ll Name the Dogs, and Carrie Underwood carried Female Video of the Year for The Champion, featuring Ludacris. Little Big Town hosted. Dan + Shay scored an upset Duo Video of the Year win for Tequila. Luke Bryan, Dierks Bentley and Florida Georgia Line debuted energetic new singles. Even the Backstreet Boys picked up an award.

And don’t forget about the Royal Family spoof:

CMT Music Awards

But for some fans, that parade of star power across their screens just isn’t enough. For the second consecutive year, thousands of the most dedicated descended upon Nashville for the CMT Summer of Music Festival, which this year sprawled across three days and five events and drew an estimated 25,000 fans.

“Last year, we evolved the CMT Music Awards from a one-night-only-TV event into a multi-day festival spread across the city,” CMT General Manager Frank Tanki told Billboard. “It was a huge success with fans and advertiser partners alike, allowing everyone involved to experience CMT is an entirely new and powerful way.”

This multiday meeting of high-powered sponsors (Ram Trucks, Boston Beer, Kind Bar, Pedigree pet food), with rollicking events (a puppy festival, an emerging-artists concert, a taping of Crossroads, a block party), injects a multidimensional element into CMT’s marquee event.

Fans in Nashville for the awards would usually just “end up at the honky tonks on lower Broadway,” CMT Senior Vice President of Partnerships Adam Steingart told Variety. “But there’s so much more to provide to them that enhances the overall experience.”

NASHVILLE, TN – JUNE 06: Little Big Town performs onstage at the 2018 CMT Music Awards at Bridgestone Arena on June 6, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images for CMT)

This broadening of an annual awards show into an immersive fan adventure is a strategy long used by CMT’s fellow Viacom network BET, which hosts the four-day BET Experience (which is ongoing now through June 24 in Los Angeles), leading up to its annual BET Awards (this Sunday, June 24). This increasing focus on live events is in fact proliferating across Viacom, as the company increasingly diversifies outside of its core business under President and CEO Bob Bakish.

“Again, the events space in this fiscal year, every flagship brand [NickelodeonNick Jr.MTVBETComedy CentralParamount Network], will have an events in the U.S.,” Bakish told a gathering of investors at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference in March. “That is something that was not true before. So, that’s Nickelodeon, that’s Comedy Central … So, that’s an important incremental activity and one that consumers and advertisers and for that matter, talent, like.”

This company-wide strategy syncs well with CMT’s drive to connect to its fans through a steadily expanding number of live events, including its enormously successful Next Women of Country branded tour.

“While we have a nice framework now for the CMT Music Awards, we see a lot of potential to expand in more ways,” Tanki told Billboard.

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