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,” 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 Paramount Network President Kevin 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.

Nashville Season Six Debuts On a High Note

Nashville Is back and in rhythm.

On Thursday, Jan. 4, CMT’s beloved country soap Nashville returned for its sixth and final season. 1.6 million viewers joined them, a testament to the loyal “Nashie” fan base hooked by season five’s plot twists—including the death of a major character (Connie Britton’s Rayna Jaymes), police misconduct and racial profiling, song stealing and scheming, dramatic hookups and breakups…accompanied by melodic country harmonies, of course.

Nashville started 2018 with the highest ratings since its midseason five premiere. And according to Nielsen, Nashville’s debut was the night’s top social entertainment cable program—with #NashvilleCMT trending nationally on Twitter.

“The final season is truly the culmination of the incredible journey of each of these beloved characters,” said Keith Cox, president of development for Paramount, CMT and TV Land. “We want to give the fans, who fought so passionately to bring the show to CMT, a spectacular ending and great payoff.”

Watch a teaser for the next episode:

“The continued success of ‘Nashville’ remains a critical and defining part of our 2018 plan and a vital building block towards a strong future,” said Frank Tanki, general manager of CMT and TV Land. “Once again, the team has pushed themselves on all fronts and it’s absolutely amazing to see all these moving parts come together so smartly and loudly.”

The strong tune-in for the premiere follows a record-breaking 2017, in which CMT scored 53 consecutive weeks of ratings growth, underscoring the fact that Nashville is just one part of a diverse CMT programming roster that encompasses a bit of everything—from unscripted dramas to innovative digital content.

Music City, for example, is a docu-series created by famed executive producer Adam DiVello, who also helmed iconic MTV reality dramas Laguna Beach and The Hills.

Watch a teaser for Music City:

Music City is filmed in Nashville, with a cast of young, up-and-coming musicians struggling to make it in a cutthroat industry—much like The Hills, which gave viewers an inside look at fledgling fashionstas Lauren Conrad, Audrina Patridge and Heidi Montag as they tried to succeed in Hollywood.

Watch a throwback clip of The Hills:


This sort of unscripted docu-series has broad appeal: I was a rabid fan of The Hills, even though I didn’t share career aspirations as future fashion mogul Conrad (I tuned in for the personality conflicts, delectable drama and luxurious landscape), and I’ll probably watch Music City, even though I’m not a country music fan. It’s enticing to watch young professionals engage in a heightened state of reality, vying for their dream career (especially now that I’m around the same age as the cast members).

And the network is meeting fans on all platforms – CMT’s 2018 slate includes three new short-form digital series, exclusive for YouTube: How To Wear, Street Art Stories, and The Downtown Farmer.

Watch the trailer for Street Art Stories below, and find the full playlist on YouTube:

Watch new episodes of Nashville on CMT, Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET

Is Trevor Noah Dishonest and Corrupt Enough to Win Trump’s Honor?

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

How does a U.S. president follow up a Twitter threat to start a nuclear war with America’s external enemies?

With a promise to strike the malcontents who are most ferociously attacking the nation from within – the mainstream media:

Comedy Central’s Daily Show host Trevor Noah could barely contain his excitement at this proclamation from the Very-Stable-Genius-in-Chief.

“After provoking North Korea and then insulting Palestine, the President turned to America’s greatest foe: the fake-news media,” Noah said of Trump’s announcement. “So that was Donald Trump’s day on Twitter. The bad news is he’s itching to start a nuclear war. The good news is, despite his threats to Korea, at least he thinks we’re going to make it until Monday.”

And the better news for fans is that, despite Trump pushing the awards until Wednesday, Noah is lobbying hard to win this distinction. In the grand tradition of “for your consideration” awards season self-promotion, Noah turned to the “failing” (according to Trump), New York Times to promote himself as the best possible candidate for the president’s prize:

Noah even plastered his qualifications on a Times Square billboard (on the north side of Viacom’s HQ at 1515 Broadway):

Noah will have plenty of competition, including Comedy Central alums Stephen Colbert and Samantha Bee, who are running their own furious campaigns for this high honor. Noah is not intimidated. “President Trump, don’t be faked out by their fake fake-outs,” a narrator says on a Daily Show-sponsored ad dismissing Colbert and Bee as fake fakers. “When you cast your vote on Monday, vote for The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. He covers you very unfairly, and he’s literally un-American.”

It’s true (though don’t hold that against them): Noah is from South Africa.

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Tyra Banks Returns to VH1’s America’s Next Top Model on Tuesday, January 9

On Tuesday, Jan. 9,  America’s Next Top Model returns to VH1 for its 24th cycle with a promise: to go next-level fierce, or go home.

With the return of former host and all-around boss Tyra Banks, it looks as if the seminal modelling competition will hold true to its promise. The legendary “Queen of the Smize” has a few surprises up her sequined-sleeve, and has already drummed up excitement for the new season by removing the show’s 27-year-old age limit.

In a video posted to her personal Twitter account, Banks explained why contestants of all ages are welcome to werk it.

“There have been 23 cycles of America’s Next Top Model, and every single cycle we say you have to be 27 years old or younger,” said Banks. “You know what I hear all the time? ‘Tyra, come on. Why have an age limit?’ So you know what? I’m taking that age limit off.”

We can also expect guest appearances by RuPaul’s Drag Race stars Valentina, Katya and Manila and a special episode involving “noted fashion photographer” Nigel Barker.

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Viacom to Welcome Proven Partner: Influence Marketing Company WHOSAY

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Viacom has signed a definitive agreement to acquire WHOSAY, an influence marketing company whose deep reach into next-generation advertising and marketing platforms and solutions will boost Viacom’s capabilities across advertising, marketing and digital content.

Partnering with some of the world’s most recognizable brands, WHOSAY does everything from crafting campaign strategy to casting influencer talent to producing premium content and live events to analyzing data and performance.

An important piece of Viacom’s strategic plan

Viacom’s acquisition of WHOSAY will be an important component of the business strategy laid out by CEO Bob Bakish, who has frequently discussed the necessity of further expanding onto emerging digital platforms and beefing up the company’s already considerable advanced-advertising capabilities.

“One objective is accelerating our participation in next-generation platforms and solutions,” Bakish said, outlining his principle 2018 objectives at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference in December. “So those are things like the over-the-top business, where we see significant opportunity on the virtual MVPD [multichannel video programming distributor] side, also the direct-to-consumer side, and related to that, the advanced advertising side. And this is not something that we’re making up … we had about $350 million of business there across those sectors [in 2017], and we believe that’s a $1 billion business by 2020.”

A proven partner

This acquisition will unite two engaging storytellers, fusing Viacom’s global content engine, diverse audience and best-in-class advanced advertising tools with WHOSAY’s precision ability to seamlessly match brand objectives with talent and creative, and optimize the message through omnichannel distribution.

WHOSAY has already executed more than 50 campaigns for MTV, BET and other Viacom brands over the past two years, crafting activations that feature top influencers such as singer/songwriter LeToya Luckett for November’s BET Soul Train Awards, and rapper Lil Yachty and actor Keegan Allen for the MTV Movie & TV Awards in May.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BTnZWW6l0jj/?taken-by=keeoone&hl=en

“We’re excited about a deeper integration with WHOSAY and the strength of our combined capabilities,” said Viacom Head of Marketing & Partner Solutions Sean Moran. “This partnership will add to our linear, digital and mobile arsenal by bringing us further into the world of social media and shopper marketing. Together, we will offer brand partners unparalleled creative solutions that maximize the power of storytelling, influencer reach, omnichannel distribution and advanced advertising tools to create quality campaigns that drive results.”

Complementing Viacom’s strengths

Amplifying the power and reach of WHOSAY’s campaigns is the company’s expertise in matching brands and influencers via its proprietary Match platform. Once the pairing is solidified, WHOSAY is expert at distilling a brand’s goals, creating a campaign, and spreading that message to the ideal audience through social, digital, mobile, linear, experience, out-of-home and other channels.

These advanced whole-campaign capabilities and digital focus will act as a powerful complement to many of Viacom’s existing entities, including the Velocity full-service integrated marketing and creative team and the company’s newly created Digital Studios unit under Kelly Day.

The addition of WHOSAY to Viacom’s portfolio will also underscore Viacom’s position as a leader in advanced advertising, building upon the significant capabilities of its data-driven audience-targeting Vantage product and its status as a founding member of the OpenAP audience targeting and measurement platform.

In addition to their considerable digital and event capabilities, WHOSAY has built a bricks-and-mortar-focused WHOSAY Shopper team, which will open up potential new retail opportunities for Viacom brands.

MTV Goes Free in Germany

Free MTV? Yes, please.

On Dec. 23, Viacom International Media Networks (VIMN), will launch exactly that in Germany: a free-to-air version of MTV on cable, satellite and on-demand, as well as the MTV Play App for Android and iOS.

The new offering complements already-free versions of Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, and Viacom-operated German music channel Viva in that nation.

“MTV is a global leader when it comes to producing music and entertainment content that appeals to youth culture,” said Raffaele Annecchino, president and managing director of VIMN for Southern and Western Europe, the Middle East and Africa, in the Hollywood Reporter.

Annecchino says the network took advantage of an opportunity for growth in their German free-to-air market, giving fans unparalleled access to MTV’s deep content library, which includes the Jersey Shore franchise and tentpole events like the MTV EMAs.

Germany is well acquainted with MTV, according to Viacom International’s general manager of Germany, Switzerland and Austria, Mark Specht.

“MTV stands for legendary music formats and international events such as the MTV EMA, MTV VMA or our successful MTV Unplugged series,” said Specht.

Watch the promo video:

The shift in MTV to free-to-air status in Germany follows Viacom’s acquisition of Argentina’s Telefe, one of the nation’s main free-to-air channels, last year, underscoring what CEO Bob Bakish calls Viacom’s “unrivalled track record” of creating hybrids of free and paid TV.

Viacom has steadily expanded its European presence by shifting select offerings from cable in markets where it makes sense to do so. In September, Viacom expanded in Italy by doubling its free-to-air channel offerings on the Paramount Channel and VH1, and launched a local version of Spike TV.

MTV Germany will celebrate its return to free TV on Dec. 23 with a televised special, beginning with a three-episode run of music documentary series Dare to Live (starring Rory Kramer and featuring Shawn Mendes, Martin Garrix and the Chainsmokers), followed by a local music video highlights program called MTV Buzz, hosted by German star Uli Brase.

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.

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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Transform into Bumblebee with this Free iOS App from Paramount and Viacom NEXT

Legendary Autobot Bumblebee towers over Times Square through the lens of an augmented reality app created by Viacom NEXT.

Time to take that classic yellow and black Chevy Camaro for the joy ride you always longed for.

Now, thanks to the studio that brought you the explosive Transformers film series and the tech magic-makers at virtual reality (VR) group Viacom NEXT, fans of the heroic Autobot can play as Bumblebee in Transformers: Cade’s Junkyard, a free experience launched today to coincide with the 4K Ultra HD release of the five-movie collection on iTunes.

Cade’s Junkyard, created in augmented reality (AR) using cutting-edge VR technology from Apple, incorporates content from Transformers: The Last Knight – the latest installment of the blockbuster franchise – to transport users to the virtual junkyard of protagonist Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg).

“We’re excited to give fans the opportunity to get in the driver’s seat and take Bumblebee for a ride,” said Howard Hsieh, vice president of Paramount Home Media Distribution.

The experience overlays eye-popping 3D graphics onto your surrounding physical space, allowing you to maneuver around (or into) barrels, wooden crates, rusted-up jalopies, gas tanks and all sorts of other obstacles at breakneck speeds in the iconic automobile. Careful you don’t drive off your desk, though. The action really heats up when you transform into Bumblebee and show those pesky barrels who’s boss. Blowing stuff up with your phone has rarely been this fun. And in case you’re more of a builder than a demolisher, the app allows you to choose and place objects to expand the virtual world wherever you wish.

Smashing up Viacom’s New York City offices with an augmented reality app created by Viacom NEXT.

The sharp gameplay is the product of putting Apple’s new ARKit platform in the hands of the expert engineers and developers at Viacom NEXT. This is the group’s second time building an AR experience with ARKit – in September, Viacom NEXT released ARQUA!, an artistic building game in which users transform their physical environments into rainbow-colored aquariums.

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