An artist’s impression of the Nickelodeon theme park that will open in the massive Mall of China.
SpongeBob SquarePants, Dora the Explorer, the PAW Patrol gang, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are teaming up for a new adventure: Nick’s iconic crew is headed for Chongqing, China, where they will headline attractions at the largest indoor Nickelodeon theme park in the world.
The 28,000-square-meter entertainment zone, which will live at the heart of the massive Mall of China complex when it opens in 2020, is a vital part of Viacom’s global efforts to seed its popular brands across a range of live events and experiences.
“Creating immersive on-the-ground consumer experiences remains an important part of our business. As we continue to grow the footprint of Nickelodeon theme parks, I am confident this will also open up new opportunities for the Nickelodeon brand and for our partners across multiple platforms in this important Chinese market,” said Viacom International Media Networks (VIMN) Managing Director of Asia Pacific Mark Whitehead.
The park – which VIMN will co-develop with the Mall of China, Jiayuan Group, China Creation Group and Triple Five Group – will showcase 14 Nick properties across 29 attractions, including Asia’s first tilting drop tower and the TMNT launch coaster, which will be the highest, fastest and longest indoor rollercoaster in the world.
“This is testament to the power of Nickelodeon and our iconic characters that fans, kids and families have come to love, which in turn, enables our ability to further boost the Nickelodeon entertainment experience for them,” said VIMN Senior Vice President of Location Based Experiences Gerald Raines.
On Tuesday, Viacom President and CEO Bob Bakish sat down with Activision Blizzard Studios Co-President Stacey Sher for a panel moderated by Fortune’s Andrew Nusca at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech Conference in Aspen, Colorado. The topic was “the future of entertainment,” and Bakish delivered a broad overview of how Viacom not only fit into that future, but was actively shaping it with a focused strategy, an invigorated leadership team, and a series of initiatives to broaden and modernize its business.
Here are a few highlights from Bakish’s remarks, emphasizing how Viacom is repositioning itself to thrive as an independent company within a rapidly changing and consolidating industry. You can watch the full remarks below.
Step 1: have a plan
“I was given the opportunity to run Viacom roughly a year and a half ago. I’m a big believer in you have to have a plan. … We rolled out a plan. Plan had number of elements to it, probably central to it, which will relate to our conversation, was this notion of flagship brands. That had to do with prioritization and true multi-platform expression. … The other thing was you need to have a killer management team. It’s another place where the company hadn’t changed much. Made significant changes on the network side of the business, really completely overhauled the Paramount team from the top down, and then we got to work executing. If you look at what’s happened in the quarters since, I describe Viacom as not a light switch, but a story of incremental progress against a destination.”
Step 2: execute
“If you look at our U.S. networks and audience share, you’ll see that we’ve consistently grown audience share. You look at a brand like MTV, which had a ratings decline in the ten percent for five years running. Now, five quarters in, we’ve consistently grown ratings every quarter. That’s a function of a different strategy and a different team and focusing on execution.”
As competition grows, Viacom benefits by building upon its content production expertise – and profiting off this competition by producing their content
Again, with what we call the tech companies coming in, do you have some incremental competition? Yes, you do. But at the same time you have a series of demand that needs to be filmed. Take Paramount Television, which is the television production side of Paramount. It didn’t exist four years ago. Today, or this fiscal year, it’ll do $400 million of revenue and it’s producing hits. It’s producing hits like 13 Reasons Why for Netflix, like The Alienist for the Turner networks, like the upcoming Jack Ryan series for Amazon, which will drop at the end of August. There’s fantastic opportunity to feed that ecosystem. At the same time, we look at our IP that we’re developing in house and we do think about, “Is this better as a linear network show on an owned and operated network, i.e., I don’t know, Nickelodeon, or is it better as a studio production, branded studio production for a third-party platform?”
Continue to drive growth through great content – both with new ideas and iconic IP
… we are mining franchises. Part of it is, sure, we’re creating new product that didn’t exist before. If you look at Paramount as an example, you have a film like A Quiet Place. Different idea, great characters in it, great storytelling, great execution, including focusing on how much it cost to make, and a great result. You also have a film like Mission: Impossible, which premiered in Paris last week, will open in the U.S. in two weeks. It is really an extraordinary film. … Yesterday, we announced that we’re taking the Rugrats franchise. It’s probably a franchise most of you have heard about. Nickelodeon franchise. We’re bringing that back in a new iteration, both for feature film and for episodic video, i.e. television, and we’ll do a whole bunch of digital native stuff. It no doubt will show up in our experiential space as it comes to life. It’s really mining those opportunities, pursuing some different business models, but making sure consumers have access and using that combination to ultimately drive growth, which is at the end of the day what I’m focused on, which is making Viacom once again grow.
Embrace technology to drive growth
At the same time, we’re using an extraordinary amount of technology in the, I’ll call it, monetization space. For example, when you look at advertising sales or what we’ve historically called advertising sales, Viacom is at the forefront of data-driven advertising in television. … Starting a year and a half ago, in every affiliate renewal we did, and we’ve renewed or extended well over half the sub-base in the U.S. by now, we incorporated the provision for dynamic ad insertion. We’re now able to insert dynamically in 90 percent of [video-on-demand] homes in the U.S. and in the two largest cable operators in the U.S. in a portion of the national avails.
Operate at (the appropriate) scale
[In answer to a question from Fortune’s Adam Lashinksky: The conventional wisdom is that Netflix, Apple, Amazon, are spending billions and billions of dollars, and therefore you and others your size can’t compete. Do you think that conventional wisdom is wrong? If so, why or how?]: “Yeah, I think it is wrong. The reason I’ll say that is it’s overly simplistic. Because if you think of scale, which is at the root of a lot of these arguments, there’s plenty of examples of scale where there’s actually no value to the combination. We see that today in some assets that own both media assets and distribution, but there isn’t really a lot of crossover. Look, I’d say is there scale or is there relevant scale. The other thing is, and I learned this because I ran our business outside the U.S. for 10 years … Those are places where we had a one percent share, so we didn’t have scale. We had to figure out how could we act like we had more scale? Those were doing things like partnering and creating ad sales, houses, and the like. That’s creating virtual scale. In a world where, yes, people are spending extraordinary amounts of money … By the way, we spent about five billion dollars on content, so we’re not exactly irrelevant in that regard, and we have relationships with leading creatives in front of the screen, behind the screen, in feature film, in episodic television, and, yes, in digital native. … I think there is an opportunity to be more nimble in this regard and not be vertically integrate and, frankly, serve a lot of different demand.
In an unpredictable, changing landscape, the only thing you can do is execute
[Answering the moderator’s question of whether Viacom would be independent a year from now]: “Who knows what the future will bring? My guess is, yes, we will be independent a year from now. We’re certainly executing in that regard. We definitely have the full support of our board. We’re talking about a number of interesting ideas, both organic and inorganic, but we’ll just have to see how the whole ecosystem plays out.”
Viacom content rolls from screens across more than 180 countries and in dozens of languages, reaching more than 4 billion subscribers. Every single piece of this content is the result of dozens or hundreds or thousands of workers who do everything from directing to producing to lighting to catering to set design – and most of them do not work directly for Viacom; they work for independent companies, vendors that Viacom contracts to execute the particulars of production or logistics or supply delivery.
This enormous footprint presents Viacom with an equally enormous opportunity: to proactively seek out diverse suppliers, echoing the company’s varied programming and strong internal culture of diversity and inclusion.
Under the company’s new supplier diversity initiative, led by Viacom’s sourcing team and its Office of Global Inclusion, the company is doing exactly that, actively forming new partnerships that are broadening opportunities for minority-owned shops while bolstering Viacom’s own business by offering a wider array of creative perspectives.
“When you look at the amount of spend we generate both through media networks and Paramount, it’s an incredible opportunity to diversify our partnership base,” said Viacom Executive Vice President and Global Head of Inclusion Strategies Marva Smalls.
Identifying diverse partners
The first step to diversification was to simply catalogue Viacom’s current vendor pool, a massive undertaking. Aside from changing internal procedures to document whether incoming vendors are diverse, Viacom joined several minority-focused councils that work with certified (meaning the businesses are at least 51 percent minority-owned) suppliers: the women’s business council WBENC, the LGBT business advocates NGLCC, minority supplier group NMSDC, and representatives of people with disabilities and disabled veterans Disability:IN (formerly USBLN). So far, approximately 1,100 of Viacom’s vendors have either self-classified themselves as diverse or fit into the rubric to be certified by one of these organizations.
The reach of these certifying councils is substantial. The National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC), for example, which claims to represent the interests of more than 1 million LGBT U.S. business owners, which it can connect with Viacom via networking events and access to its deep database.
Viacom’s goal is to form long-term, immersive partnerships with each organization, underscoring for their members the company’s sustained commitment to diversity. Building such a network also creates an echo affect, a sort of street cred where partner companies validate Viacom’s commitment not just to diversity, but to supporting the small businesses that most of these operations are.
“If you have that local production company that says, ‘I’m in business with Viacom, and as a result, that allows me to hire more people for my community and where I’m located,’ ultimately, the community will see that,” said Smalls. “We need to be viewed as a company that’s not just taking up space in the community, but actually taking the time to identify small businesses.”
Viacom is also coordinating with its peers to identify minority-owned businesses. Last year, Viacom co-hosted a networking event with Disney, Time Warner, CBS, NBCU and others, during which minority-owned vendors could meet representatives of many large companies at once.
Sometimes a nudge is all you need
One initial contract with a major corporation can be the catalyst for tremendous growth. “The whole purpose behind vendor diversity is to help put a seat at the table for the new, innovative company who deserves a fair shot,” said Jonathan Lovitz a senior vice president and former director for NGLCC New York (and also a former Logo personality) . “Our partners at all of our organizations that advocate for diverse-owned companies can each point to the day everything changed for a small business because they earned a chance to be seen by an inclusive industry leader like Viacom.”
Take, for example, Jax Media, a New York City-based, minority-owned production shop. The company parlayed a single off-the-air Comedy Central presentation a decade ago into production of multiple series for the network, including hit series Broad City. The company also produces TV Land’s Younger and has collaborated with MTV and Paramount Network.
“We make sure there is an eye toward creating a diverse culture and environment,” said Megan Ring, senior vice president and head of production for Comedy Central and senior vice president of scripted production for Paramount Network and TV Land. “Jax Media’s owner, Tony Hernandez, was just a producer in New York with some great ideas and a different way of thinking. We struck up a relationship and we were willing to take some chances to learn from him, and he was at the same time able to take advantage of access points to Viacom.”
Imagine bringing your childhood obsession or your favorite cartoon to life in pin form, and then having it sold as an exclusive, limited-edition collectible at San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) to thousands of adoring fans. That’s what happened when Nickelodeon Animation artists based out of the Burbank, California studio competed in the office’s first-ever SDCC Enamel Pin Design Contest.
From art directors to production coordinators to interns, Nickelodeon animation artists created and submitted more than 100 designs for vibrant enamel pins to be sold at Nickelodeon’s popular booth on the SDCC show floor.
Featuring pin designs by Nickelodeon employees Morgan Bell, Cynthia Avila, Rachel Forman, Colton Davis, Kate Coffey and Samantha Armiger.
Here are the six winners whose designs Nick selected for manufacturing:
Christina started her career at Viacom in the spring semester of 2016 as a Paramount Pictures Publicity intern. After graduating college in 2016, she returned to Viacom as an assistant in Distribution & Business Development (DBD). She was promoted to marketing coordinator in January 2018. Christina supports DBD across CMT, TV Land, and Paramount Network.
Campus to Career: Thanks for making the time to talk, Christina. Can you share a bit about your background and what led you to Viacom?
CD: I’m originally from Tampa, Florida, and attended the University of Florida studying public relations and business. I had always been familiar with Viacom brands and Paramount movies, and wanted to work with content I felt such a connection to.
Awesome! If you could give your intern-self some words of advice, what would they be?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions – your team and supervisors are there to help you and support your professional growth.
Solid advice. How did you feel supported by your team?
Since I interned at Paramount the semester before graduation, my team truly helped shape and define my career path. I was given amazing learning experiences, and had the opportunity to play a real role on major projects. The Campus to Career team was also an incredible resource in my post-graduate job search.
That is great to hear! What were some of your favorite Campus to Career events?
All of the networking events were awesome. I was able to learn so much about the business and meet people from departments I was interested in working in.
I especially enjoyed the End of Semester Forum [information session for Viacom interns to prepare them for the full-time job search] – it gave me invaluable insight on the Viacom interview process and resume best practices. I developed a close connection with Nick Delville, an entry-level recruiter, following my internship. He was an awesome part of my support system and a go-to resource throughout the job search – and he still is helping my professional development.
Christina Dris, Marketing Coordinator, Distribution Business Development, CMT, TV Land and Paramount Network, is the latest employee featured in Viacom’s “Going Places” series on intern success stories.
Over the course of a nine-season, 13-year television run that also included three motion pictures, Nickelodeon’s beloved Rugrats crawled and waddled their way to four Daytime Emmy Awards and a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.
Now, the beloved tykes are returning to both television and movie theaters via Nickelodeon and Paramount Pictures’ Paramount Players division. This cross-brand collaboration, which will maximize Rugrats’ reach across platforms and among varied audiences, is Viacom’s latest effort to tap the value of its deep intellectual property well by fully activating the power of its brand ecosystem in support of marquee franchises and talent.
“Rugrats is hands-down one of the most celebrated cartoons in TV history, and we are thrilled for a whole new audience to meet these iconic characters in brand-new adventures,” said Viacom Media Networks COO and Nickelodeon Interim President Sarah Levy. “What was true in 1991 when the original show premiered is still true today: kids are fascinated with the world of babies. We can’t wait for today’s kids to meet Tommy, Chuckie and pals.”
The 26-episode comeback season is already under production at Nickelodeon’s Burbank studio, under the supervision of original creators and series executive producers Arlene Klasky, Gábor Csupó and Paul Germain. The as-yet-untitled fourth Rugrats movie, slated for a November 13, 2020 release, will be a live-action film with CGI characters.
Nickelodeon’s vault holds some of the most iconic names in children’s entertainment, and the network is moving deliberately to resurrect select properties that resonate with today’s audiences, both on Nick’s networks and on third-party platforms. Last year’s Hey Arnold! special sent the Hillwood crew back to television, and an updated Blue’s Clues series is in the works, along with special events featuring fan favorites Rocko’s Modern Life and Invader Zim. Through a studio model that is proliferating across Viacom, Nick will also produce two full animated seasons of infectiously positive teenage hotdog Pinky Malinky for Netflix.
Rugrats, which last aired new episodes in 2004, has always proved popular with moviegoers. The trio of Paramount Pictures-distributed films – The Rugrats Movie, Rugrats in Paris: The Movie, and Rugrats Go Wild – grossed nearly $300 million in total box office between 1998 and 2003. The forthcoming film will be the seventh project announced by Paramount Players, which develops and produces co-branded feature films with Viacom Media Networks.
“Now feels like the ideal time to reintroduce this iconic cast of characters to a whole new generation of young fans,” said Paramount Players President Brian Robbins. “Kids who grew up with Tommy Pickles and the Rugrats crew will now be able to share that experience with their own children.”
Kids interested in learning about endangered species can watch Together for Good Wildlife Special, in which Breanna Yde of Nick’s School of Rock guides viewers on a journey through Uganda. On the tour, she discovers key conservation and environmental challenges, and hears from heroes who work daily to protect at-risk wildlife including lions, giraffes, rhinoceroses, elephants and chimpanzees. Digital vignettes supplement the story, creating a vivid, immersive world.
The special was produced through a partnership with the African Wildlife Foundation and Nick International’s social responsibility initiative, Together for Good. The goal is to raise awareness about endangered wildlife and act as a call to action, using Nickelodeon’s globally recognized brand to empower kids to become change-makers.
Nickelodeon star Breanna Yde guides viewers on a journey through Uganda in Nickelodeon International’s Together For Good Wildlife Special, Photo courtesy of Nickelodeon International.
The 70th annual Primetime Emmy® Awards nominations announced this morning included a total of 29 nominations for Viacom-produced programming across linear and digital platforms.
The nods honor VH1’s continued, standout creativity for its groundbreaking reality series RuPaul’s Drag Race, which earned a total of 12 nominations including the 3rd nomination for host RuPaul (who won for the category in 2016 and 2017) and two nominations for the companion series RuPaul’s Drag Race: Untucked.
Comedy Central’s six nominations include two nominations for The Daily Show, which appears in the outstanding talk series for the first time since Trevor Noah took over as host. Last year’s short form variety winner The Daily Show: Between The Scenes was nominated for the second consecutive year. As well, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences nominated South Park for outstanding animated series for the 17th time ahead of its 22nd season premiere in September.
Paramount Network’s first original series Waco notched three nominations, while Lip Sync Battle earned a nod for outstanding reality series for the third year in a row.
Bozoma Saint John, self-described “force of nature in fierce stilettos” and newly minted chief marketing officer for entertainment company Endeavor, came to Viacom’s Times Square headquarters in May to share career wisdom and empowering life advice with Viacom employees at an event organized by the company’s Office of Global Inclusion.
Michele Thornton Ghee, BET Her senior vice president of Ad Sales, moderated the discussion with Endeavor’s chief marketing officer Bozoma Saint John at Viacom Headquarters in May 2018.
At Viacom’s employee event, Saint John strutted in wearing six-inch designer heels, looking every bit the #girlboss: poised, commanding and unapologetically stylish. In an ebullient exchange with long-time friend and moderator Michele Thornton Ghee, BET Her senior vice president of Ad Sales, Saint John traced her non-traditional life and explained how the unique worldview that it formed drove her success in a traditional business world.
Since its U.S. debut in January, Paramount Network has quickly bolstered Viacom’s position in the premium content space, with its first three originals – Waco, American Woman, and Yellowstone– drawing strong ratings by fusing quality storytelling with top talent.
Tomorrow, Viacom will launch a free-to-air Paramount Network in the UK, bringing the blend of premium content, unscripted fare, movies and more to one of its top European markets.
“Launching on TV screens in the U.K. is another critical milestone for the Paramount Network brand, which we’re convinced will resonate strongly with British viewers, given Paramount’s distinguished and successful history of epic, cinematic storytelling for global audiences,” said Jill Offman, executive vice president of Comedy Central and Paramount Network International. “Delivering free-to-air content to millions of U.K. households underlines our belief that, despite the growing popularity of on-demand, viewers continue to value highly TV channels that offer an intelligently scheduled linear lineup of quality entertainment.”
The channel will build on the company’s considerable past success in the UK, plugging in the editorial team of Viacom-owned Channel 5 to schedule and program the new Paramount Network.
“Paramount Network is set to deliver high-end Hollywood entertainment with blockbuster movies, scripted drama and critically acclaimed comedy featuring some of the biggest names on the planet,” said Channel 5 Director of Programs Ben Frow. “Supported by Channel 5’s creative scheduling and audience insight and underpinned by Viacom’s brand-building expertise, Paramount Network is a popular premium content destination in a free-to-air world.”
Launch content will include the hit unscripted Lip Sync Battle, the seventh season of the popular Suits, Kaitlin Olsen’s The Mick, action drama Six and fantasy drama Heroes Reborn. Classic movies, some from Paramount Pictures’ 106-year-old library, will also air on the network, which will be available on Sky, BT and Freeview.
The Paramount Network in the UK is the second to launch outside of the United States. Last month, Spain rebranded its existing Paramount Channel, which was one of Viacom’s highest-rated networks outside of the U.S. Content includes a blend of movies and television series, including the locally popular reality show Alaska & Mario: El Huracan Mexicano.
“Paramount Network has great positioning and fits perfectly with our strategy in Spain,” Raffaele Annecchino, president and managing director of Viacom International Media Networks Southern and Western Europe, Middle East and Africa, said when announcing the network’s arrival. “Paramount Channel has achieved great results in Spain, but it’s time to evolve the brand even further, making the channel increasingly contemporary and relevant for the Spanish market.”