Creative Resurgence Drives Ratings Growth For Viacom’s Adult Brands

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Fresh off a successful launch for the Paramount Network, Viacom’s portfolio of adult channels (Paramount Network plus CMT and TV Land), just wrapped the quarter with strong ratings growth – in some cases, the highest in several years, making an essential contribution to the company’s ongoing transformation.

CMT secured its 16th consecutive month of year-over-year ratings growth. TV Land stamped out its best ratings month in more than four years. And Paramount Network debuted its premium content to enormous ratings gains over its predecessor network.

“As we look at how Viacom is performing domestically, there have [been] huge properties and huge networks, and I don’t see that changing,” Frank Tanki, who acts as general manager for CMT and TV Land, recently told Broadcasting & Cable. “We’ve got a lot of support from a lot of the Viacom management team, so I feel good about our future.”

Paramount Network – originals are connecting with new viewers

Driven by the success of the critically-acclaimed scripted event series Waco and anchored by returning hits Lip Sync BattleInk Master and Bar Rescue, Paramount Network’s original series are up 94 percent versus a year ago, with significant increases in both live and delayed viewing versus the prior quarter.

“Our goal this quarter was to introduce the channel to new viewers and begin to establish it as the home for premium scripted series,” said Kevin Kay, president of Paramount Network, CMT and TV Land, in a recent email to staff.

Paramount Network’s lineup of premium, high-quality series really gets moving this summer with the launch of several highly anticipated new series, including the sweeping epic drama Yellowstone starring Kevin Costner and written and directed by Taylor Sheridan (Wind River, Sicario, Hell or High Water) on June 20 and American Woman starring Alicia Silverstone and Mena Suvari launching June 7. Later this summer,  the dark comedy Heathers and Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story, from producer, Shawn “Jay Z” Carter, will debut. Carter’s most recent project for the network, TIME: The Kalief Browder Story, garnered a prestigious Peabody Award.

CMT – connecting with fans onscreen and off

Driving the ratings growth at CMT is a pivot toward the unscripted fare that its core fans react to so strongly (like most Viacom networks, CMT has drastically reoriented itself since CEO Bob Bakish took the helm in late 2016). Country music remains front and center, with music series and specials including, CMT Crossroads, and Hot 20 Countdown garnering their highest ratings in several years, while CMT Artists of the Year, nabbed its highest ratings ever.

The network tapped The Hills and Laguna Beach creator Adam DiVello for Music Citywhich documents five scrape-your-way-to-the-top strivers trying to insert themselves into Nashville’s music scene. CMT has a new slate of unscripted originals that will begin rolling out this year, including fan-favorite Wife Swap. With the hugely popular scripted hit Nashville wrapping up its sixth and final season in July, this unscripted slate provides a clear path forward for CMT.

“So these are the kinds of ideas that I think make more financial sense for a network,” Kay told Adweek. “If you pick the right properties, you don’t have to be spending millions and millions of dollars an episode to bring an audience to a channel.”   

With steady ratings growth anchoring the core television business, CMT’s leadership has begun exploring more ways that they can sync with Viacom’s company-wide focus on growing its live events business (all six of Viacom’s flagship networks – BET, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., MTV, Paramount Network, and Comedy Central – will host live events this year). Last year’s CMT Music Awards rippled out into a three-day festival in downtown Nashville, and the net plans to expand its CMT on Tour and CMT Next Women of Country Tour.

“There’s so much opportunity in the space,” Kay told Adweek. “We should be in the CMT festival business, [to] which we’re getting very close.”

TV Land – modern pop culture classic series is appealing to more viewers

TV Land’s mix of beloved modern pop culture classic series is connecting with fans. Driven by the strong performance of RoseanneMomKing of Queens and Everybody Loves Raymond, the net ranked as the 15th highest-rated channel on all of ad-supported cable in March.

With momentum building toward the new seasons of Younger and Teachers on June 5, TV Land is likely to continue its tremendous momentum over the summer.

“TV Land is just a great workhorse, and I think that there is still growth for our two originals, Younger and Teachers,” Tanki told Broadcasting & Cable. “Younger this past summer is coming off its highest season ever, which in a multi-season franchise is really exciting. Teachers is another really hysterical series that we want to get out there. So for TV Land, it’s a little bit of if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

Viacom’s Creative Renaissance Ignites With “Jersey Shore Family Vacation” and “A Quiet Place”

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

In the last week, Paramount Pictures’ A Quiet Place won the domestic box office and MTV’s Jersey Shore Family Vacation rolled to the strongest unscripted cable debut in six years. The efforts provide commercial evidence of Viacom’s ongoing transformation – fueled by wide-ranging creative investments in talent, programming, and marketing.

The chart-topping numbers are especially encouraging in a media environment of ever-more-elusive audiences. The divergent paths to success of these two properties – A Quiet Place delivering something novel by elevating a horror story to a genre-busting blockbuster that appeals to all audiences, Jersey Shore Family Vacation building on MTV’s deep well of intellectual property to connect with its core demographic – underscore the way in which a creative renaissance is driving Viacom’s growth.

Marketing a near-silent film in an era of loud

Making a bet on the film’s potential playability, Paramount unveiled A Quiet Place at SXSW to great response. The highly original film immediately started compiling incredibly strong reviews. A clever marketing campaign then helped launch A Quiet Place to a $50.3 million opening weekend, good for the second-best domestic opening of 2018 (behind Black Panther). With a $17 million budget, the Platinum Dunes-produced and John Krasinski-directed film is a validation of Paramount’s reoriented slate and refreshed marketing approach under CEO Jim Gianopulos, who joined the studio last year.

“An innovative concept, with great talent both behind the camera and in front, and a savvy distribution and marketing plan led to Paramount’s biggest opening since 2016,” wrote Viacom CEO Bob Bakish in a staff memo about the film’s success.

Building strong relationships with talent has become a particular focus for Viacom under Bakish, and Krasinski, who will produce and star in the Paramount Television-produced Jack Ryan for Amazon and co-created Paramount Network’s hit show Lip Sync Battle, demonstrates the enormous cross-brand potential that forming such deep relationships can yield.  

A Quiet Place’s unique storyline – featuring a family tiptoeing through a post-apocalyptic world infested with insectoid monsters that will devour anyone who makes a sound – created an opportunity for Paramount to execute an equally original pre-release marketing plan. They delivered: moviegoers in nearly 100 theater chains caught the sonically attuned monsters devouring noisy spectators in pre-show spots, with the stern warning that “the movie theater should be A Quiet Place.” A pre-Super Bowl ad, a launch of the second trailer on Ellen, and a kick-off spot and accompanying stunts at the SXSW Film Festival primed diverse audiences for the film’s release.

“Paramount’s reconstituted management team is focused on allowing great filmmakers to make great movies, and then doing everything we can to support those movies,” said Paramount Pictures Chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos. “In A Quiet Place, we did exactly that: We gave a talented young director license to put together something unlike anything else out there, and then threw our marketing and distribution expertise behind the project.”

Tapping an iconic property to connect with a core audience

Jersey Shore Family Vacation had less work to do in the name-recognition department, as its iconic predecessor, Jersey Shore, had long ago etched its cast into the cultural conversation. The unknown was whether this fist-pumping bunch, six years older and reunited in the beaches and bars of Miami, would still connect with audiences.

It did. The show’s nearly 10 million total viewers and 4.2 average rating in the core 18-34 demo on live-plus-three-days metrics made Jersey Shore Family Vacation the most-watched unscripted debut on U.S. cable since 2012. The original Jersey Shore had ignited a global franchise – with spin-offs in the UK, Spain, Poland and Mexico, plus the recently launched hit Floribama Shore in the U.S – and the cast’s return resonated globally, with the premiere airing in nearly 180 countries and territories.

The strong ratings complemented a seven-hour trending run on Twitter and acted as an emphatic endorsement of MTV’s revamped creative direction under President Chris McCarthy. Under his leadership, the network has grown ratings for three consecutive quarters for the first time in seven years behind a blend of revitalized franchises, returning classics and original programs.  

“MTV is about celebrating youth culture and music where talent and creativity unite to produce content that resonates across generations,” said McCarthy, who also oversees VH1 and Logo. “Jersey Shore Family Vacation and the new Floribama Shore demonstrate how MTV can harness our heritage to create programming that appeals to a mass audience while serving as a great launching pad for our new series.”

“Nothing Could Have Prepared Us For How Good This Film Is” – Critics Love Paramount’s A Quiet Place

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

When Paramount Pictures’ A Quiet Place opened the SXSW Film Festival last month, the reviews were deafeningly loud – and positive.

“Critics in attendance for the Austin, Texas-based film festival called Krasinski’s third feature film ‘a tight thrill ride,’ ‘a kick-ass horror flick,’ a ‘crowdpleaser,’ and a ‘technically sleek’ and ‘terrifying thriller,’” Entertainment Weekly’s Nick Romano wrote at the time.

They may want to quiet down. Set in a post-apocalyptic America overrun by sonically super-powered insectoid predators that will feast on any human who makes the slightest sound, A Quiet Place’s tiptoeing world of caution and fear is no place for raving critics.

That hasn’t slowed them down. With the film opening in theaters today, the stream of enthralled reviews has turned into a deluge, most of which go something like this take by Cinemablend’s Conner Schwerdtfeger:

“… even in the face of heightened anticipation, nothing could’ve prepared us for how good this film is. Using its simple concept for maximum effectiveness, A Quiet Place blends horror with drama, and the result is a near-perfect horror film that isn’t just the best scary movie of 2018 so far; it is one of the best films of the year, period.”

The film stars Emily Blunt, John Krasinski (who also co-wrote and directed), Noah Jupe and Millicent Simmonds. They survive by wit and prudence and patience, with sign language and with poured sand trails to walk on and within a padded living space designed to mute every sound. Hanging over their bunkered but secure-for-the-moment existence is the fact of Blunt’s pregnancy, promising the inexorable arrival of a screaming baby into a world of omnipresent sound-hungry monsters.

It’s an intriguing meta concept, and one that is masterfully executed in multiple dimensions. Here’s a closer look at the elements that A Quiet Place’s critics are shouting about:

It transcends horror

From its opening scenes, it is clear that A Quiet Place has a larger purpose than scaring audiences out of their seats (though “Every second of A Quiet Place is filled with oppressive dread…” notes GQ’s Tom Philip). In its insistent focus on Mom and Dad Abbott working together to keep their kids alive under horrific circumstances, the film is as much about the overwhelming responsibility and challenges of family life as about anything else.

“The question Krasinski tackles is what defines a family and what’s needed to preserve it?” asks Peter Travers in Rolling Stone. “’Who are we,’ asks Mom, ‘if we can’t protect our children?’ The answers are worked out with satisfying complexity and genuine feeling, proving indeed that home is where family is.”

Left to right: Noah Jupe plays Marcus Abbott, Millicent Simmonds plays Regan Abbott and John Krasinski plays Lee Abbott in A QUIET PLACE, from Paramount Pictures.

At least part of the reason this resonates so deeply is that the survivalist couple is married in real life. “… the success of the film hinges almost entirely on the way in which real-life couple and parents Blunt and Krasinski pour their fears about raising children into their performances here,” writes Joanna Robinson in Vanity Fair. “As is the case with most successful, spare horror films of late, A Quiet Place has much more to say about its humans than its monsters and is especially invested in the ways families fail to communicate even their most basic needs to each other.”

Krasinski is a great director…

Krasinski the actor is familiar to a non-monster-infested America, which has been laughing along with him since the mid-2000’s heyday of The Office. Here, in his debut helming a film for a major studio, we meet Krasinski the director. We are impressed.

“Directed with first-rate visual flair by John Krasinski (who knew?), this riveting near-silent thriller exudes the despair of a broken world with the concision of a Cormac McCarthy novel folded into a simplistic B-movie premise,” writes Eric Kohn in Indiewire. “… the director’s capacity to mine suspense out of inventive scenarios (sinking in a sea of corn, or grasping for a mattress to stifle a baby’s cry) means that every new showdown comes with a few unexpected tricks.”

… supported by an outstanding cast

That one of the Abbott’s children is deaf – meaning the family can all sign fluent sign language – perhaps contributed to their survival in a world where sound is poison. That Krasinski cast a deaf actress in that role most certainly helped transform a surreal world into a believable one.

“Simmonds, a deaf actress, is as commanding here as she was in her astonishing breakthrough turn last year in Todd Haynes’ Wonderstruck,” writes the Los Angeles TimesJustin Chang.

The rest of the cast is just as strong. “… Blunt, Krasinski, and Jupe all contribute credible intensity to their scenes with a degree of sophistication rare for this type of material,” writes Indiewire’s Kohn.

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A Viacom Employee Panel: Staying Healthy and Positive in the Social Media Age

With the emergence of social media as a source for news, it is little surprise that it has also become a social activism platform. But how do you know which movements are credible? Do you fact check news before believing it? Where exactly is social media taking us?

These were only a few of the many questions discussed at the Activism in Media Panel in honor of Black History Month, organized by The BEAT – Viacom’s employee resource group dedicated to the African-American experience – at the company’s Times Square headquarters.

Kimberly Renee Selden, content producer, educator, and founder of The Global Media Project, moderated this conversation among four influential media voices, each of whom shared a background in media and a common drive to pave the way for others.

The panelists:

Charles Coleman Jr. is a civil rights attorney who established E.D.G.E, a movement focused on inspiring the next generation of leaders and creating more positive examples of manhood for young men.

 

 

 

Eunique Gibson Jones is a content creator, director, and speaker who develops campaigns that ignite conversations and introspection. She also founded Because of Them We Can, a movement that empowers the next generation to honor the legacy of their ancestors.

 

 

Nantasha Williams is a well-respected political strategist, social architect and community engager, who successfully played a role in organizing the enormous 2017 Women’s March.

 

 

 

Steven Roberts is a director of video for MTV News, who helped re-establish the brand’s voice with a new generation of engaged young people.

 

 

 

 


Social Media Activism: The Pros and Cons

Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or Snapchat have obvious upsides – giving voice to the voiceless, quickly disseminating information, providing optimal platforms for engagement – but the panel also uncovered some of the downsides, including the spread of disinformation, the cultivation of short attention spans, and a lack of true depth from so-called “engagements.”

Gibson Jones elaborated on a real-life consequence of short attention spans: “Last February, I ran a campaign for Because of Them We Can. On February 1 we like to kick it off for Black History Month, but at the same time our video went up, Beyonce announced that she was having twins!”

The lesson: do not underestimate the importance of strategic timing to the success of social media activism.

Viacom employees with the panelists after the Activism in Media panel at 1515 Broadway in New York City in honor of Black History Month. Photo by Natasha Nieves.

The Power of Positive Storytelling on Media

When creating a movement, it is important to stay positive and consistent, to maintain the mission, values, purpose, and story of that movement and keep people engaged and motivated.

“The stories that we tell and how we tell them have a direct impact in terms of our own self- image as well as our images around others,” said Coleman Jr. “Those in the creative process have a tremendous power to shape narratives. My personal goal and what I am currently working on is creating a platform to reconstruct the narrative of young men of color, so that they can see themselves in higher power, and know that their goals are attainable. Positive stories are visualization, and visualizations become reality.”

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Kids’ Choice Awards 2018: Live Updates

On Friday, March 23, I began live blogging my Kids’ Choice Awards experience as a Viacom insider. Here’s what went down.

This post was originally published on Medium.

A sublime experience

I left the Forum about two hours ago (7 p.m. PST) and it’s finally setting in that the KCAs are over. And to be honest, I was a bit relieved — not that the event was over, but that I had successfully made it from New York to Los Angeles, to pre-parties, to the press tent (I got lost twice), to the Orange Carpet and finally to my seat.

John Cena gets slimed. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

As I was live blogging, my goal was to try and keep my “live” coverage to a minimum — a paradox, I know. But as any child of the internet age knows, you can’t truly experience anything if you’re trying to document it in real-time. I’ve made this mistake many times in life — professional and personal — and the lesson is, you retain much more about whatever’s happening in front of you if you focus your attention on what is in front of you, not at your phone or notepad.

Here’s what stuck with me.

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“We’re Focused on a Return to Growth,” Bob Bakish Tells Deutsche Bank Conference

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Viacom President and CEO Bob Bakish sat with analyst Bryan Kraft at the Deutsche Bank Media, Telecom and Business Services Conference in Palm Beach, Florida last week. In an extended Q&A session, Bakish outlined Viacom’s wide-ranging growth initiatives, from sophisticated advanced advertising products, to the opportunities in mobile distribution, to the company’s strength outside of the United States.

“We spent 2017 really stabilizing the business, and now we’re focused on a return to growth,” Bakish said. “… We articulated a three-part plan associated with that, growing share and margins in our core business, accelerating our participation in next-generation platforms and solutions, and unlocking opportunities with synergies to the core that are outside of traditional media revenue streams.”

While Bakish looked firmly toward the future, he also summarized a few of Viacom’s many recent successes: MTV is in its 10th consecutive month of growth; BET’s ratings streak stands at three straight quarters; Paramount Network launched to both critical acclaim and ratings success in January; ratings at CMT, TV Land and VH1 continue to be strong.

Here are a few more highlights from Bakish’s conversation. You can listen to the full Q&A session here.

Viacom’s diverse demographics + diverse ad products = enormous opportunity

“… all our constituencies have embraced the flagship strategy and certainly that’s true in the ad community. We’re in a very enviable position in that we serve the full spectrum of demographics, really from preschoolers all the way up to, as I said, 25-54s. … But importantly, what you have to realize about our ad business is, yes, it’s partially ads or majority ads on linear television networks … but it’s also our advanced advertising business. And that’s around instilling data-driven approaches and alternate kind of orbits versus [potential] truck [purchasers] versus men 18 to 34 in a television-centric environment, and then all the way up through actual dynamic ad insertion, which is another element we’ve added as we’ve redone our MVPD deals this year [so that] we have access to insert at the consumer level.”

A cornerstone strategy drives growth internationally

“… [Viacom’s international cornerstone strategy] started with our creation of our joint venture in India, which we did in 2007, where we went on to launch a brand called Colors and sitting here today, it’s the number one. … We then went on to acquire Channel 5 in the UK about five years ago. That’s been a homerun and we acquired Telefe in Argentina, which is number one broadcaster in Argentina about a year ago and that’s been a homerun. So, you put that all together and you have a company that grew – our international division that grew, earnings, double digits ad revenue, double-digit affiliate revenue, double-digit ancillary revenue in the last quarter and earnings, let’s say very, very strong double digits in the last quarter and continues to be on a … strong track to additional growth.”

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Nickelodeon SlimeFest Continues to Break Into Experiential Entertainment, And You’re Going to Love It

Viacom’s live event business is booming. Just this past year, the company has launched Comedy Central’s Clusterfest, a first-of-its-kind music and comedy hybrid festival; Bellator MMA came to New York’s Madison Square Garden; and Nickelodeon brought Bikini Bottom to Broadway via the smash hit SpongeBob SquarePants the Musical.

Now, Nickelodeon will add to this growing constellation of live experiences with a two-day immersive music festival called…you guessed it…NickelodeonSlimeFest.

Nickelodeon debuted this kid-friendly festival in Australia, and has since slimed fans around the globe with events in South Africa, Italy, the UK and Spain. Now, the green goo is coming to the U.S., emphasizing the power and reach of Viacom’s global properties. It makes sense: outstanding events are universally appreciated, and slime is slime regardless of what language you speak.

Courtesy of Nickelodeon and Live Nation

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Nick Jr. Launches the Youngest “Player” in Viacom’s Global Mobile App Suite

After more than 16 million downloads in the U.S., the Nick Jr. Play interactive app is available for download via iOS and Android in the UK and Denmark, with additional markets to follow soon.

What can young, on-the-go fans expect from this app?

Nick Jr. Play offers full episodes of PAW Patrol, Nella The Princess Knight, Dora the Explorer, and Bubble Guppies, along with videos, games and “silly surprises.” The app is tailored for preschoolers, so Nick. Jr.’s target audience of children under 4 can swipe and tap to play with ease.

“Nick Jr. Play combines some of preschoolers’ most beloved programming with interactive play that families can do together from the comfort of home,” said Kate Sils, vice president of multiplatform and brand engagement, Nickelodeon International.

“We’re excited to expand this offering internationally, and invite many more children and parents from across the world to engage and learn with all of their Nick Jr. friends while on the go.”

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There’s No Safe Space in Paramount Network’s Heathers Reboot

Paramount Network’s Heathers is a modern take on the 80s cult classic, with sardonic, NSFW dialogue, and fierce fashion (rather than shoulder pads, this squad rocks faux fur and statement chokers).

And this time, the elite Heathers are not three white girls with long hair and thin legs rocking color coordinated twin sets. Heather M. is black, Heath is gender-fluid and their vicious ringleader Heather C. is a plus-sized, body-positive badass.

Watch the trailer:

Meet the Heathers on Instagram:

Tectonic. #Heathers #ParamountNetwork

A post shared by Heathers (@heathers) on

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Corporate, the Demented Desk Job of Your Nightmares Come to Life, Delivers Big Ratings

Comedy Central’s most recent scripted series, Corporate, brings office humor to a dark, depraved place: Hampton Deville. The fictitious conglomerate is one of the largest corporations in the world, known for its multifarious production of goods—ranging from fresh produce to weapons of mass destruction. The company ethos is, on principle, devoid of principle, embodied by morally bankrupt, bagel-throwing CEO Christian Deville (Lance Reddick) to lower-level cogs Jake and Matt (aka “junior executives-in-training,” played by co-creators Jake Weisman and Matt Ingebretson).

The pilot, Facing the Void is a comprehensive look at dreary Hampton Deville, where “aggressive confrontational criticism” is encouraged and cost-cutting for the $5 billion corporation takes the form of “hierarchal” feeding at staff luncheons.

Watch a clip:

Hampton Deville is everything you don’t want to see in a company—either as an employee or consumer—but Corporate is everything viewers want in a dark comedy.

Corporate’s premiere on Jan. 17 was the highest-rated basic-cable prime comedy debut of the 2017-18 programming season. Critics are obsessed with the portrayal of modern-day cubicle carnage, too. Los Angeles Times TV critic Robert Lloyd called the show “clever and cutting” in his review, and Bustle writer Sydney Bucksbaum vouched for its universal appeal. “Despite the fact that I’ve never worked a meaningless job at a giant corporation,” wrote Bucksbaum, “I found myself relating to Corporate in a way that I’ve never felt before while watching a TV show.” IndieWire’s Steve Greene lauded Comedy Central for producing one of the “most fascinating comedic experiments on TV.”

Corporate is at the vanguard of Comedy Central’s strong 2018 lineup. Mainstays Another Period and Drunk History returned earlier this week for a third and fifth season, respectively. Critical favorite Detroiters will return for a second season, as will The Jim Jefferies Show. Jefferies, an Australian comic, joined the network’s slate of biting late night hosts last year, adding his own sardonic flavor to Comedy Central’s trademark political satire. “You’d think I’d stop being surprised at how smart and funny Jim is about everything,” said Comedy Central President Kent Alterman. “I’m just glad we’re still giving visas to people from whatever s***hole country he comes from.”

Watch a clip:

The laughter isn’t limited to linear TV. In February, the network will debut its first ever live daily morning show, You Up With Nikki Glaser, to air on SiriusXM’s Comedy Central Radio. The show will feature Glaser and touring companion, Tom Thakker, as they poke fun at pop culture and “make fun of whatever or whoever deserves it.”

Watch new episodes of Corporate Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET.