As Viacom’s branded content studio, Velocity is a driving force in developing custom marketing solutions for partners. For this edition of “5 Questions,” we asked Tom De Napoli, Velocity’s Senior Director for Business Strategy & Innovation, to share his thoughts about how his team is building partnerships that align with and enhance Viacom’s cultural impact, and what new collaborations Velocity is currently developing.
AwesomenessTV Holdings, LLC (aka Awesomeness), a media company and leading digital-first destination for original programming, has established an unparalleled connection to GenZ – that coveted up-and-coming cohort born along with the tech revolution of the mid-1990s. Fed by strong relationships with top digital talent and influencers, Awesomeness has accumulated 6.4 million YouTube subscribers and another 158 million subscribers on its Awesomeness Network, becoming the premiere digital media network for the most digitally savvy cohort in history.
And now Viacom is acquiring Awesomeness, which will live under Viacom Digital Studios (VDS) and play an important role in Viacom’s robust and growing premium content production ecosystem, drive additional growth at VDS, and strengthen Viacom’s established digital and social relationships and dominance in youth culture.
“Awesomeness has done an incredible job building their brand into a digital media powerhouse for today’s most sought-after and hard-to-reach youth audiences,” said Kelly Day, President of Viacom Digital Studios and former Chief Business Officer of Awesomeness. “The team brings strong digital expertise, deep connections with top talent and influencers, and a robust branded content studio and creative agency that will accelerate the growth and scale of Viacom Digital Studios.”
Andie is on a mission to shake her stigma with the help of her three best friends in “Foursome,” which airs on YouTube Premium. Starring Jenn McAllister, Rickey Thompson and more.
Viacom is already a top player in youth culture, having curated strong audience connections with kids via Nickelodeon and young adults via MTV. The addition of Awesomeness’ young teen fan base further strengthens this broad demographic reach, while Awesomeness’ strong existing relationships with digital platforms, talent and influencers complements VDS’ existing efforts to reach these GenZ consumers on the mobile, social and digital platforms they call home.
While VDS has been growing briskly – more than tripling digital streams since 2016 and doubling YouTube subscribers over the past year, as total social views and watch time soared by 112 and 104 percent, respectively – Awesomeness’ dedicated sales force, branded content studio, and existing relationships with brands such as Hollister, Gatorade and Invisalign will further drive VDS’ growth and profitability. Awesomeness’ expertise across digital programming and distribution, production, talent management and audience development will also help fill out VDS’ still-growing staff.
With distribution deals with major SVOD players and its own Emmy-winning, youth-focused studios that have produced 200 hours of long-form television and feature film content, Awesomeness’ proven content development and production abilities are an especially good fit for Viacom, which has moved deliberately to ramp up its capabilities in this area recently: consolidating several operations across the Americas into Viacom International Studios to service global markets; moving to a studio model under which Nickelodeon, MTV and other brands will license and produce shows based on intellectual property for third-party platforms; and building Paramount Pictures’ Paramount Television production arm from scratch into a $400-million-and-growing annual business.
During an all-night, lock-in graduation party, a group of new grads will do whatever it takes to make their remaining high school dreams come true in “All Night,” which airs on Hulu. Starring Jenn McAllister, Eva Gutowski, Teala Dunn, Jake Short, Brec Bassinger and more.
Awesomeness alumni have already been helping to power Viacom’s transformation in this increasingly digital and mobile age: VDS President Kelly Day, VDS Executive Vice President of Talent and Development Paula Kaplan, and Paramount Players President Brian Robbins – who co-founded Awesomeness in 2012 with Joe Davola – each joined Viacom directly from Awesomeness, a testament to that entity’s penchant for producing top-grade talent.
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.”
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:
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.
June was Pride Month – and to celebrate, we have stories on LGBT acceptance around the world as well as in the Netherlands. Other new insights include young Americans’ rising political empowerment, global kids in their own words, how age impacts social media behavior, and taking TV away from consumers to reveal its role in their lives. As always, on our blog you can find these and all our stories in English, Latin American Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese.
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.
On Sunday June 24, roughly two million revelers filled the streets of downtown Manhattan to celebrate the culmination of Pride Month: the 49th annual New York City Pride March.
Among them walked a contingent of nearly 350 Viacom-affiliated marchers, a procession of employees, media and corporate partners amidst a pair of Comedy Central- and VH1-branded floats. EMERGE, Viacom’s employee resource group focused on LGBT employees and straight allies, and Viacommunity, Viacom’s social responsibility arm, had helped rally the boisterous crew.
Fans at the 2018 New York Pride Parade. Photo by Sarah Stone.
“June is a special month for EMERGE as we have the opportunity to bring awareness, engage, and celebrate with Viacom employees while we have the spotlight on us this special month,” said Emily Albertson, a senior manager at Comedy Central and EMERGE leader.
“We always see an influx of new members joining in June, which help us lead the charge in continuing to fight for LGBTQ rights for the rest of the year. We love having the opportunity to show employees that Viacom supports all of their employees regardless of sexual preference or identity.”
The day’s weather forecast predicted thunderstorms and scattered showers, but as a harbinger of positive energy, clouds parted around noon – just in time for the parade to begin.
VH1 sponsored the parade with a float for the first time, choosing its award-winning show, RuPaul’s Drag Race, to represent Viacom with a glitzy, purple contraption emblazoned with show’s sassy catchphrase, “Sashay Away.”
VH1’s RuPaul’s Drag Race float “Sashay Away” was a fan-favorite at the 2018 New York City Pride Parade. Photo by Sarah Stone.
NEW YORK, NY – JUNE 26: (L-R) Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Gegard Mousasi, Scott Coker, James Rushton, Rory MacDonald, Wanderlei Silva and Lyoto Machida attend the Bellator-DAZN announcement press conference on June 26, 2018 at Viacom in New York City. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for Bellator MMA)
In recent months, Bellator MMA has crisscrossed the globe, hosting fights for its international fan base in such diverse locations as London (Bellator 200), California (199), Budapest (196) and Israel (188), among others.
Now, the Viacom-owned global combat sports franchise is queueing up fight cards for a totally new destination – online, via a nine-figure deal with international live sports streamer DAZN.
The streaming deal plants an important digital component into Viacom’s ever-expanding live-events business while expanding Bellator’s global footprint and injecting the league with the additional financial resources it needs to expand its roster.
Noting that Bellator had become a “significant revenue generator” since Viacom acquired the property eight years ago, Viacom CFO Wade Davis underscored the importance of live events to the company’s growth strategy.
“Viacom has led the industry in creating iconic, fan-centered events through MTV’s VMAs, the BET Experience that happened in L.A. last weekend, the CMT Music Awards, and Comedy Central’s Clusterfest,” Davis said, speaking at a press conference at Viacom’s Times Square headquarters announcing the DAZN partnership. “Nobody does live events the way we do, with the combination of a focus on brand, talent and sponsors, all expressed across multiple platforms.”
Bellator intends to invest at least some of the proceeds from this streaming agreement into its roster, enhancing the live experience with a dynamic group of fighters.
“This deal will allow the roster to continue to expand, and an expanded roster means bigger fights,” Paramount Network, TV Land and CMT President Kevin Kay said at the press conference. “It means we’ll be able to give our best fighters more opportunities to do what they do best. So more fights that the fans want to see. Everybody wins.”
While MMA fans in 162 countries can already view Bellator events through local television partners, this streaming agreement will add a popular online platform to the mix. DAZN has spent several years steadily building itself into an online destination for sports fans in Canada, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Japan. With the Bellator deal – and a recent agreement that granted DAZN U.S. streaming rights to the World Boxing Super Series – the streamer is set to enter the United States in September. DAZN will also soon expand into Italy.
“On DAZN’s worldwide platform, our fights will be seen live for the first time to new audiences around the globe,” said Bellator President Scott Coker.
Under the agreement, Perform Group-owned DAZN will exclusively stream seven annual fight cards, and will simulcast another 15 that air on Paramount Network. All fights will stream in all DAZN markets.
“It’s simple; fans want to see great fighters in competitive fights so we’ve handed the keys to Scott Coker and his venerable team to go out and recruit even more top-level talent to further stack Bellator fight cards and build on their success,” said DAZN CEO James Rushton. “With the combination of this investment and our recent announcement to bring more than 30 nights of boxing to the platform annually, DAZN will be a must-have for fight fans in the U.S.”
VidCon, the world’s biggest conference for online video, was held from June 22 – 24, and Viacom showed up in a big way. Paramount Network hosted a panel on the power of storytelling. Nickelodeon held activations around Double Dare and Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, plus a special appearance by JoJo Siwa. MTV, BET, Comedy Central and Velocity were also represented. Additionally, Viacom held a panel on the power of youth to create change to debut Viacom’s new global pro-social initiative, Generation Change. For this 5 Questions, we spoke to VidCon co-founder and chairman Hank Green to hear about the vision behind the event and where it’s headed next.