Drink, Dance, Donate: How Viacom Gave Back and Got Down for the 8th Year in a Row

“Everyone on the left side of the room say, ‘Give back,’” shouted Viacom President and CEO Bob Bakish, addressing a constellation of nearly 200 Viacom employees and nonprofit partners, all gathered in the White Box at Viacom’s Times Square Headquarters one evening in early December.

Viacom President and CEO Bob Bakish rallies the crowd at Give Back & Get Down VIII during his opening statements. Photo by Emil Cohen.

“Give back,” the crowd roared.

“Now everybody on the right side of the room say, “Get down!’”

“Get down!’”

After this rhapsodic rallying cry, Bakish began his opening remarks for our eighth annual gala of goodwill: Give Back & Get Down.

“Every year, Give Back and Get Down reminds us to celebrate the qualities that embody the Viacom spirit: empathy and engagement for the communities in which we serve,” said Bakish, applauding our Office of Global Inclusion (OGI), Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and Corporate Social Responsibility (Viacommunity) department for their concerted efforts in organizing such a festive and fruitful event.

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CMT Celebrates 2017 With a Milestone: 53 Weeks of Consecutive Growth

Combining network transformation and honoring tradition, CMT broke records this year with 53 weeks of consecutive growth. It’s the longest active growth streak in cable (among all ad-supported cable channels).

How did CMT achieve this landmark?

The network remained true to its mission statement, fueling its status as the leading authority on country music and lifestyle by re-branding the network to become more than just a music channel, but an entertainment hub for modern country culture.

The new creative filter beckoned a programming renaissance, with hit shows and specials including Nashville and the limited run series Sun Records, while fan-favorite series like Steve Austin’s Broken Skull Challenge and Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders Making the Team were re-energized and attracted new fans.

CMT re-examined its signature music events and specials with fresh eyes. With the seminal series CMT Crossroads which pairs a country act with a pop artist, the network focused on more diverse and current pairings like Maren Morris and Alicia Keys, Thomas Rhett and Nick Jonas, and Florida Georgia Line and Backstreet Boys, which scored the highest “Crossroads” ratings in 5 years.

Fresh off a pair of Grammy-nominations, Kesha is joined by Old Crow Medicine Show for a newly interrupted version of her smash hit Your Love Is My Drug:

Given the hurricanes and shootings in Las Vegas, the annual CMT Artists of the Year special was evolved from a celebration of the year’s top artists to a night of hope and healing. Fans responded…the critically acclaimed special notched the event’s highest ratings ever. And with the CMT Music Awards, CMT successfully expanded the event from one-night event into a three-day festival for sponsors and fans. The events dominated downtown Nashville with multiple sponsor activations, music performances, and fan experiences… creating the largest footprint in CMT history.

The growth isn’t just limited to television. This year, CMT’s ramped up social strategy bolstered its reach to be “everywhere fans are.”  It’s working: in the past year, CMT’s Facebook fans have increased by 3,000 percent.

While the brand continues to expand, its commitment to its fans has never wavered. In the last few months alone, CMT expanded the “Empowering Education” campaign encouraging our fans to pursue higher education and was proudly the first cable network to sign-up for the “Hand in Hand” telethon benefiting hurricane victims.

The last 53 months of growth coincided with subtle yet impactful changes on CMT: introducing more culturally-relevant content to the network, and spreading such content across a range of platforms.

“We discovered that more than ever country fans cannot be put into one box. They connect with smart content which reflects their diverse identities.”

– Frank Tanki, CMT and TV Land General Manger

Network executives chose this course after careful reflection: What does it mean to be a diehard country music fan in 2017?

It means being socially-conscious.

It means having a diverse taste in music—with Carrie Underwood and Beyoncé on the same Spotify playlist.

It means being open to progressive dialogue and content.

CMT fans are diverse in age, race, ethnicity, class and nationality.

“We discovered that more than ever country fans cannot be put into one box,” said Frank Tanki, CMT and TV Land General Manger. “They connect with smart content which reflects their diverse identities.”

And many are millennials, equally appreciative of the historical significance of the genre, jamming to CMT playlists on their iPhones and attending live concerts to enjoy today’s current stars.

“As we connect with more millennials,” said Tanki, “We realize that country fans are younger and increasingly diverse. To remain the authority on country, we adopted a more progressive and inclusive point of view. And to stay culturally relevant, we began reflecting what was happening in culture right now.  And we’ll continue to challenge ourselves to keep reinventing our brand.”

The network made a decision to let go of some older shows that no longer fit the brand mission, but this was accompanied by introducing new shows—original scripted programming or saving proven hits like the endearing fan-favorite Nashville. The “Nashie” fan-base has generated record-breaking numbers for CMT, and Nashville remains the network’s highest-rated and most-watched show in CMT history. These new fans stayed, and ratings soared.

The network is commemorating this phenomenal ratings growth by doing what it does best: connecting artists with fans.

On Thursday, Dec. 14 CMT unveiled its annual LISTEN UP list of 18 emerging artists (18 for 2018) that the network will support and amplify across all platforms, digital and linear, for the next year.

LISTEN UP spotlights talent, giving fans a deeper look at the careers of these potential country superstars through featured promotion of their new music and videos.

“CMT’s ratings trajectory is further proof that our new mission of embracing and redefining modern country culture is working,” said Tanki. “Music is our brand cornerstone and key to our growth. Franchises like LISTEN UP allow us to join forces with new artists at the forefront of evolving the genre and give them a massive megaphone to reach countless new fans.”

Since 2011, the franchise has helped spawn the careers of fledgling stars including Brett Eldredge, Cole Swindell, Dustin Lynch, Jon Pardi, Kacey Musgraves, Kelsea Ballerini, Maren Morris, and RaeLynn. Last year’s class alone, included breakout stars Carly Pearce, Luke Combs and Midland.

This year’s “18 for 2018” LISTEN UP artists are Abby AndersonAshley McBrydeBailey BryanCale DoddsDelta RaeDevin DawsonJillian JacquelineJimmie AllenJordan DavisKassi AshtonLevonMaggie RoseMorgan EvansMorgan WallenRussell DickersonRyan KinderThe Sisterhood Band and Tyler Rich.

This year’s “18 for 2018” LISTEN UP artists. Photo courtesy of CMT.

“LISTEN UP taps into CMT’s influence and platforms to guide fans to talented emerging artists that might not yet be on their radars,” said CMT’s senior vice president of music strategy and talent, Leslie Fram. “This lineup represents the diversity within country music – from traditional to modern country, mixed with a little bit of soul. We look forward to sharing their passion and great music with our audience all year long.”

Viacom applauds CMT staff and stars for this colossal achievement. We’re proud to have CMT as part of the Viacom family, and look forward to what the maverick network will produce in the New Year.

Take a look at the upcoming slate of new programming for 2018, including Music City from the creator and executive producer of The Hills and Laguna Beach (premiering March 1). In many ways, it’s the real life Nashville.

Watch the trailer:


Follow CMT on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for the latest news. Visit CMT.com for more shows and updates.

Viacom Scores Golden Globe Nominations for “Downsizing,” “13 Reasons Why”

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Video created by Viacom Catalyst

Downsizing doesn’t hit theaters until Dec. 22, but the Alexander Payne-directed fantasy about a resource-starved future, in which citizens shrink themselves to conserve resources, is already creating enough buzz to earn a Golden Globe nomination.

Hong Chau earned a spot on the list of contenders in the Best Supporting Actress category, becoming just the third person of East Asian decent to earn that distinction since 1970, according to EW.com.

“This is the type of character who’s always in the background,” Chau told EW about the significance of her prominent role in the film. “I hope filmmakers will go back and take a look at people whom they thought they couldn’t mine drama or entertainment from. There are a lot of characters that have been underdeveloped because people aren’t interested or are afraid of attempting to tell their stories.”

On the television side, Viacom scored an additional nomination, for the Paramount Television-produced Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. Katherine Langford, who plays the tragic Hannah Baker – a high-schooler driven to suicide by the behavior of her fellow students on the hit series – is a finalist in the Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Drama category.

Paramount Television, which is a division of the Paramount Pictures Hollywood film studio and is behind hits such as USA Networks’ Shooter and Epix’s Berlin Station, is an increasingly important part of Viacom’s business. On the company’s fourth-quarter and full-year earnings call on Nov. 16, Viacom CEO Bob Bakish noted that the studio had tripled revenues in just the last year alone and has an aggressive slate planned for 2018.

Seth Meyers will host the 2018 Golden Globes, which will air live on NBC at 8 p.m. ET on Jan. 7, 2018, broadcast from the International Ballroom of the Beverly Hilton.

Viacom’s 2017 Employee Halloween Costume Contest Winner Lina Henriquez, aka La Calvera Oscura, On Her Culturally Inspired Look

Congratulations to Lina Henriquez, our 2017 Viacom Employee Halloween Costume Contest winner. By day, Henriquez works in our Core Services department as the executive receptionist, greeting visitors and directing incoming calls.

By night, she’s a holy ghost, the grand dame of death, a Mexican folk saint. Well, at least on Halloween.

Henriquez was inspired to honor Mexico’s saint La Calavera Oscura after a recent trip to the country.

Below, Henriquez explains the meaning behind her costume, how much effort (and makeup) went into creating the stunning, authentic look, and how she celebrated the spookiest night of the year.

Lina Henriquez is the 2017 Viacom Employee Halloween Costume Contest winner. Photo courtesy of Henriquez.

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SpongeBob SquarePants Delights Critics in Broadway Debut

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Following an audience-wowing run in Chicago, Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob SquarePants The Broadway Musical officially landed in New York City last week, greeted by captivated fans and an ocean’s worth of critical praise.

“Skeptics better tie themselves to the mast if they want to survive this tempest of effervescent candy-for-the-spirit,” writes Vulture’s Sara Holdren. “Even if you venture into the Palace feeling Squidward  -ish, it’s a truly gloomy soul who’ll be able to leave without mirroring the dopey grin with which the show’s absorbent yellow hero responds to his buddy’s existential angst…”

The Tina Landau-directed story, in brief: while the ever-more-fiercely trembling Mount Humungous threatens to bury Bikini Bottom beneath a tsunami of lava and ash, a number of subplots playfully expose the absurdity of contemporary real-world issues in the non-animated realm in which we all dwell. Sandy the squirrel faces land-animal xenophobia from her sea fellows. Plankton’s attempts to win business through hypnosis has echoes of an online fake-news sales job. “Tidal warming” threatens to upend daily life.

With music from an all-star jukebox’s worth of musicians, a riotous set and costumes perfectly channeling the cartoon’s manic aesthetic, and a cast preternaturally suited to their undersea identities, the show is a complete work, tuned both to its obvious target audience of children and to theatergoers entranced by the spectacle of big-time Broadway productions.

Critics, many of whom expressed only a vague familiarity with the show prior to stepping into the Palace theater, were delighted. Here’s a sampling of what they liked:

The set design

Twenty years in, SpongeBob fans are well acquainted with the whimsical animated set pieces that constitute Bikini Bottom. But even long-time observers will be delighted by the maritime decor, a boldly colored and meticulously curated bazaar of pool noodles, floaty-devices, and the discarded effluvia of the consumerist human world above – shopping carts, umbrellas, surfboards and more.

“[Set designer]  David Zinn, a master designer, seems to have been fed an herb meal before devising the set and costumes that transform the noble old Palace into a trippy mindf!ck that’s equal parts Rube Goldberg and Electric Circus,” writes Deadline’s Jeremy Gerard. “I doubt there are any colors on view that exist in nature, or that you or I have seen since black light met ingested pholiotina cyanopus.”

Sesley Taylor as Sheldon Plankton (center) and company. Photo by Joan Marcus, 2017.

The costumes

Bikini Bottom is crowded with characters of odd shape and dimension, and Zinn, who in addition to set designer is also the show’s costume designer, does not try to interpret this cartoon fantasyland literally. Instead, the actors’ decidedly human-proportioned outfits match their character’s familiar color palette, evoking their essence while individual performances complete the profile.

“The production smartly shuns prosthetics to match the characters’ looks from the animated series. Instead, undersea denizens are given human form but retain telltale traits,” writes Joe Dziemianowicz in The New York Daily News. “It’s a smart decision that broadens accessibility — fans and non-fans, adults and kids.”

Pictured: The company of SpongeBob SquarePants. Photo by Joan Marcus, 2017

The music

SpongeBob’s Broadway debut packs an outsized catalogue of that key element to so many big-time stage productions: music. The play brims with songs – many of them originals created for this production – by a deep well of musicians: Yolanda Adams, Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Sara Bareilles, Jonathan Coulton, Alex Ebert, The Flaming Lips, Lady Antebellum, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, Panic! At the Disco, Plain White T’s, T.I., David Bowie, Tom Kenny and Andy Paley.

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Viacom Global Insights, December Edition: TV’s Continued Importance, Kids’ Passion Points and More

by Christian Kurz, Global Consumer Insights, Viacom

Viacom’s latest consumer insights from around the world include TV’s continued importance, kids’ passion points, how the internet fosters unity, Filipino kids’ purchase influence, and happiness in Asia-Pacific countries. As always, you can read these and all our stories in English, Latin American Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese.

Our latest study on global TV habits finds that in viewers’ lives, TV is as essential as ever.
A recent project looks at today’s top passion points among kids in 30 countries.
A new infographic reveals stats on how the internet is opening people’s minds and inspiring them to make the world a better place.
Filipino kids are more likely to live with grandparents and help out other relatives, broadening their influence over family decisions.
People are happier and less focused on material success in Asia-Pacific countries than 5 years ago, according to a recent study.

“This Continues to Be an Extremely Undervalued Company” – Six Highlights from Bob Bakish’s UBS Global Media & Communications Q&A

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Viacom CEO Bob Bakish attends the Ribbon Cutting for the new Viacom Building on January 26, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Todd Williamson/Getty Images)

Viacom CEO Bob Bakish appeared onstage at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference yesterday in New York City, where he spoke to media and telecommunications analyst John C. Hodulik.

Bakish discussed the financial improvements surfaced in Viacom’s recent earnings report, the strength of Paramount’s film and television studios, flagship network highlights, and his optimism about the growth opportunities available through multi-platform distribution, live events, and other streams.

In his remarks, Bakish crystalized several key points about Viacom’s operations. Six of the most important are pulled out below. Click here to listen to the full conversation.

1) Viacom is a global cross-platform content engine

“And as we pivot and look to 2018, what we’re really focused on – and people think about Viacom and they say, ‘you’re a pay-TV company.’ And it’s true that we have a substantial business base in pay television. But what Viacom really is, it’s a global content engine across television, across feature film and increasingly across digital-native.”

2) Partnerships are key to growth

“The interesting thing is outside the U.S., in most markets, still today, Viacom is a relatively small player. And so, how do we get the benefits of being a bigger player? And the route to that was through partnership, whether that was partnering with our distributors, on the advertising side. We participated in a whole set of ad sales houses through that time, some of them we run, some of them other people run, some of them were joint ventures but that was all about getting the benefits of scale.”

3) Viacom’s flagship brands remain the priority

“Well, flagships [Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., MTV, Comedy Central, BET and the soon-to-launch Paramount Network] are certainly Viacom’s priority because again we think there’s significant opportunity particularly to grow share there on the network side, as well as broader awareness. As we begin to implement that strategy we certainly remixed our programming investment and moved it towards the flagships, point one. And point two is within the flagships, a brand like MTV, which I’m continuing to be tremendously excited about, there was a place where we put a new team in place, we put a new strategy in place, that strategy was about shifting the programming mix. MTV had gone to a place where it was very invested in scripted programming, which is quite frankly something you can get from a variety of places and it was not really a core association of the brand, so we’ve moved it to a more of an unscripted place, more of a live place.”

4) Viacom is the market leader in advanced advertising

“And by the way, on the advanced advertising space, Viacom is clearly the market leader. We partnered with Fox and Turner to set up OpenAP and we did that so the category can continue to scale, which is a very important thing for us. But we were the leader and we, as far as I know, are the only people doing these type of multi-faceted distribution deals and you’ll see the benefit of those start to come online as we get into 2018 too, and we’re able to unlock some more of this addressable inventory. So I think that is a very exciting road ahead. And again, sets the stage for a much more productive partnership with the MVPDs here in the U.S. and frankly around the world.”

5) 2017 was about stabilization, 2018 is about acceleration

“But as we accomplished really the stabilization of the company and I think that’s the best word, 2017 was about stabilization, 2018 is about acceleration particularly in these newer areas.”

6) Viacom is an undervalued cash machine

“Well, Viacom if you look at 2017, $1.5 billion to $1.7 billion in cash flow, durable cash flow, it’s about a 15 percent yield. So, this thing is a significant cash machine. You look at 2017 and we eliminated the big overhang on the business, quite frankly, which was the uncertainty around distribution. We have distribution deals with mid-single digit annual escalators locked in through well past 2020. So we have a secured distribution base and we have these incremental opportunities that are not only ideas on the next-generation platforms and solutions, on incremental revenues beyond the core, they’re not only ideas, they’re businesses we are already in, in 2017 that we are, therefore, know how to operate and can accelerate. So there is a tremendous opportunity ahead. This continues to be an extremely undervalued company.”


Bakish also appeared on CNBC last week. Watch his conversation with Julia Boorstin here.

Legends Return and Stars Unite as Viacom Nets Stuff the Content Pipeline

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

It’s a time of great energy and invention at Viacom, with our networks announcing new shows, series extensions, and reboots weekly.

“Content is what Viacom is,” Viacom CEO Bob Bakish told CNBC’s Julia Boorstin last week. And this robust content pipeline underscores that point as ratings continue to creep up at core channels and fourth-quarter and full-year earnings map upticks in revenue and other key financial metrics.

The return of those crazy kids of Jersey legend, a beloved host helms an all-new concept, a fan-favorite franchise expands south, an unlikely onstage pairing produces a dazzling country-pop concert, a pair of season renewals drop, and a comedy legend is honored – here’s a look at previews for some our most anticipated programming, all of which MTV, VH1, CMT and Spike have released in just the past week:

MTV:

When Floribama Shore hit with the highest ratings of any network premiere in three years, it underscored fans’ hunger for the return of the Shore franchise. Perhaps foreseeing this enthusiasm, MTV queued up the return of the original series cast with a spot announcing Jersey Shore: Family Vacation during Floribama’s debut.

We don’t have many details or even a premiere date yet, but we know the important stuff: Deena, Pauly D, JWOWW, Vinny, Ronnie, Snooki and The Situation will all be back on our screens, together:

After headlining a pair of MTV classics in Rob & Big and Rob Dyrdek’s Fantasy Factory,  skateboarder and reality star Rob Dyrdek returns to the network headlining Amazingness. Human towers, a hands-free archer, stepladders balanced on teeth – check out what will be – in Dyrdek’s words – “the talent show like no other talent show in the world” beginning this Friday, Dec. 8.

VH1:

VH1 has a New Year’s present for its rabid base of Love & Hip Hop fans – the premiere of the latest complement to the hit shows set in New York, Atlanta and Hollywood: Love & Hip Hop: Miami. Here’s a first look at the series and its ensemble cast, featuring Trick Daddy, Trina, Gunplay and Amara La Negra, among others:

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Shore Franchise Catches a Wave as Floribama Debuts to Big Ratings and Original Jersey Shore Cast Returns

Winter is just a few weeks away. In New York, this means hearing excessive amounts of holiday music while listening to weather reports with the ominous buzzword “polar vortex.”

Luckily, we can count on MTV to help us through the winter doldrums. The network announced Monday the return of beloved franchise Jersey Shore, which ended in 2012.

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Your Authenticity Is Your Superpower, and More Insights From HERE Presents: Breakthrough Women in Sports

Asani Swann is the vice president of business strategy at Melo Enterprises, the multi-million-dollar organization of NBA All-Star athlete Carmelo Anthony. She’s also a woman of color.

Swann entered the male-dominated sports management industry armed with a bevy of professional experience in branding, contract negotiation and business partnership from her previous career at Macy’s. She had her MBA. And for the first time in her life, she lost her voice.

“There weren’t a lot of people who looked like me,” said Swann, speaking to nearly 250 Viacom employees and guests at HERE Presents: Breakthrough Women in Sports, a panel discussion sponsored by our employee resource group for women (HERE).

“When I walked into a room, people would ask me if I had gone to college,” said Swann. Other times, they’d ask if she was somebody’s girlfriend.

But Swann didn’t stay silent for long. She learned to alchemize negative energy into personal empowerment. Her career thrived, and so did her soul.

“Authenticity,” said Swann, “is my superpower.”

HERE Presents: Breakthrough Women In Sports panelists share wisdom from their success in a male-dominated industry. From L-R: Lisa Borders, Jaymee Messler, Stephanie McMahon, Pam Kaufman, Constance Schwartz-Morini and Asani Swann. Photo by Matthew Levinson for Nickelodeon.

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