It’s a worst-nightmare-come-to-life scenario for teenage Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor): five fawning secret love letters disappear from her room and turn up in the mailboxes of her five crushes. The mortified scribe soon finds herself in an elaborate tap-dancing deception involving her sister’s ex-boyfriend Josh (Israel Broussard), and her school’s resident superhunk Peter (Noah Centineo).
This is the setup for To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, an Awesomeness Films production based upon the Jenny Han novel of the same name and currently airing on Netflix. The well–reviewed romantic comedy is the first that the studio has released since joining Viacom and the latest in a long line of movies Awesomeness Films has produced for digital platforms, including last summer’s You Get Me on Netflix.
The film’s release over a popular streaming platform affirms the strategic importance of last month’s acquisition, as Awesomeness’ production capabilities and relationships with third-party platforms fuel Viacom’s mission to amplify its digital presence and significantly boost its volume of premium content production.
Wrapped under the Viacom Digital Studios (VDS) umbrella, Awesomeness’ output – which also includes a TV division that produces series such as Hulu’s All Night and forthcoming Light as a Feather, as well as YouTube Premium’s Foursome – bolsters an already-surging unit that drove 7 billion digital streams last quarter and significantly grew year-over-year video views (+112 percent) and watch time (+104 percent). VDS, which is still in its nascent phases, has an additional 600 hours of new, original digital content in the pipeline.
“The [Awesomeness] 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,” VDS President (and Awesomeness alum) Kelly Day said when the deal was announced.
To All the Boys also debuts at a time when Viacom is significantly ramping up its productions for third-party platforms, both through Paramount Pictures’ Paramount Television production unit and a studio model that mines the company’s deep content vault and translates that intellectual property into new programming. Paramount Television expects to bring in more than $400 million in fiscal 2018 on the back of hits such as Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why and Amazon’s Jack Ryan, while Nickelodeon is producing Pinky Malinky for Netflix and MTV revives fan-favorites The Real World, Daria, Made and others. The newly formed Viacom International Studios has established a powerful generator of Spanish- and Portuguese-language content, with shows for Netflix, Amazon, Telemundo, Fox and others.
“Viacom produced another quarter of strong progress, with clear evidence that our turnaround is delivering results and that our evolution into a truly global, multiplatform, brand- and IP-driven entertainment company is well underway,” said Viacom President and Chief Executive Officer Bob Bakish.
Viacom’s core media networks business continues to increase share, Paramount Pictures is surging and profitable, domestic affiliate revenues are up sequentially, and new initiatives are helping to build ad sales strength. Even as these traditional business drivers stabilize, Viacom continues to transform itself by feeding booming digital consumption, growing its Advanced Marketing Solutions (AMS) portfolio, increasing its number of live events, and establishing a burgeoning cross-portfolio studio model that opens significant opportunities for third-party production.
A RESURGENT BUSINESS
Over the past several quarters, Viacom has revitalized four core elements of its business – Paramount Pictures, media networks’ audience share, ad sales, and its domestic affiliate business – while continuing to strengthen its balance sheet and improve its credit rating.
“This improvement in operating performance – combined with meaningful actions over the past 18 months to de-lever our balance sheet – have resulted in a stronger credit profile to help support Viacom’s return to long-term sustainable growth,” said Bakish. “We remain focused on building this momentum with an even stronger September quarter as we continue to position Viacom for the future.”
Here’s a look at how Viacom’s core business elements demonstrated a resurgence in the latest quarter:
Paramount Pictures continues profitability on theatrical hits, television production strength
Paramount’s new management team kicked off their slate with a pair of hits: A Quiet Place brought in $188 million domestically (and another $144 million internationally), on a $20 million budget, while Book Club, acquired for $10 million, raked in $68 million. After growing operating income for six consecutive quarters, Paramount Pictures reached profitability over the past two, with domestic revenue surging 58 percent year-over-year (YOY) in Q3. This trend is expected to continue during the fourth quarter on the strength of the well-reviewedMission: Impossible – Fallout, which has earned more than $330 million globally – a record open for the franchise – since its July 27 debut.
The studio’s Paramount Television production arm continued to show strong growth, and is aiming for $400 million in revenues for fiscal 2018 behind licensing income from acclaimed series such as the second season of Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why and The Alienist, which earned six Emmy nominations.
With deepened and expanded distribution deals, affiliate revenue is headed back toward growth
As Viacom has renewed or closed major affiliate renewals, the company has often broadened the agreements’ scope to include advanced advertising and co-production elements. Viacom has also captured new distribution, returning in full to Charter and Suddenlink and establishing carriage on vMVPD bundles, such as AT&T Watch. Domestic affiliate revenue has improved sequentially throughout fiscal 2018, and Viacom anticipates growth of one percent in the fourth quarter.
Viacom’s flagship media networks continue to grow audience share behind ratings strength
For the fifth consecutive quarter, Viacom’s flagship brands achieved YOY share growth as a unit. MTV is the fastest-growing network in primetime among the top 50 cable and broadcast channels in its target demo of adults 18 to 34, and the network has recorded YOY primetime ratings gains for four consecutive quarters. Combined, VH1 and MTV own nine of the quarter’s top 10 unscripted cable series. BET (up 23 percent in live-plus same day ratings among adults 18 to 49), and Comedy Central (recording its largest YOY primetime quarterly ratings gain since 2014), also delivered strong quarters.
Viacom’s move into premium content with the Paramount Network also showed momentum, with Western drama Yellowstone compiling an average of approximately 4.4 million live-plus-three-day viewers, good for the year’s most-watched scripted cable series after The Walking Dead.
Strengthened brands and Viacom’s AMS portfolio – which includes branded content, advanced advertising technologies, and experiential offerings – helped drive the company’s best Upfront pricing in five years. AMS revenue grew 33 percent for the quarter, driving projections of a $300 million haul for the year and a return to growth for ad sales in fiscal 2019. Fox is also licensing Viacom’s ad-targeting Vantage product, an additional incremental revenue stream that validates AMS’ sophistication and value.
EVOLVING INTO A MULTI-PLATFORM, GLOBAL, BRAND- AND IP-DRIVEN ENTERTAINMENT COMPANY
As Viacom transforms elements of its core business, the company has also been evolving to thrive in a digital and mobile landscape. Here’s a closer look at the three key initiatives – expanding the digital footprint, establishing a broader studio production business, and growing live events and adjacent businesses – that are driving the company’s evolution:
Digital consumption explodes under the Viacom Digital Studios umbrella
Behind the fast-growing Viacom Digital Studios, Viacom tripled its total digital streams since Q3 2016 to approximately 7 billion in this quarter, while recording YOY jumps in video views and watch time of 112 and 104 percent, respectively. The acquisition of Gen Z-focused digital video producer Awesomeness should further drive Viacom’s momentum in this space.
Viacom is building a cross-portfolio studio production operation that is aiming to be a $1 billion global, episodic content production business by 2020
From its launch in 2013, Paramount Television grew into a $400 million business, and Viacom is now expanding this studio production model across its portfolio. With deep vaults of intellectual property to feed the insatiable global demand for content, Viacom’s brands are ideally situated to feed this pipeline: Nickelodeon has already forged a deal to produce two seasons of Pinky Malinky for Netflix, while MTV Studios will leverage assets like The Real World, Daria, Made and others from its enormous and largely untapped youth-focused IP library. More deals are on the way, and other Viacom brands will soon launch their own studio models. Meanwhile, the newly formed Viacom International Studios is already producing Spanish- and Portuguese-language shows for Netflix, Amazon, Telemundo, Fox and others.
Live events attendance is becoming a substantial business driver
Demonstrating the power of its brands to transcend screens and translate across a variety of experiences, Viacom drew millions of fans to 65 branded live events – including Comedy Central Clusterfest, the BET Experience and Viacom’s first Vidcon – in the first three quarters of fiscal 2018. At the cross-section of live events and digital platforms, Bellator inked a nine-figure, multi-year distribution deal with global sports streaming service DAZN that will double Bellator’s revenue and make the organization profitable. Live events helped Viacom drive ancillary domestic revenues up 31 percent YOY during the quarter, to $93 million.
Viacom will wrap up its fourth quarter and full fiscal year in September. To see what Viacom will debut in the months ahead, scroll through the timeline below, or click here to view the full-screen version.
This time we have an update on the “Hierarchy of Screens,” a video about global social media use, American kids’ role in household purchases, and new research on Saudi teens. As always, on our blog you can find these and all our stories in English, Latin American Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese.
Liza’s secret is out on Younger — but that hasn’t stopped fans from tuning in. In fact, more fans watched last week’s episode than any others this season.
The Season 5 episode, A Christmas Miracle, which aired on TV Land last Tuesday, hit a season high of 1.3 million total viewers (L+3), according to the network. Its ratings peaked in the key 24-54 demographic, particularly among women, with double-digit increases from the previous week. Season 5 of Younger is on pace to score its highest-rated season among both adults 18-49 and women 18-49.
The episode sent Christmas to July, where Liza’s long-time off-and-on love interest Charles declares his commitment to her in a swirling snowstorm following an unplanned encounter at a holiday party.
The popular series, starring Sutton Foster, Hilary Duff, Peter Hermann, Nico Tortorella and Miriam Shor, was the No. 1 original ad-supported cable sitcom reaching the key women’s demographics of 18-49 and 25-54 (Nielsen, L+3) in 2017 — and it looks like things are only heating up this season.
A new episode of Younger airs on TV Land tonight at 10 p.m. ET.
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.
Shuga, which first aired in 2009 and starred Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o, blends in-depth stories about students across English and, for the first time, French-speaking Africa with informative sexual health information, including how to stay protected from HIV and how to seek out treatment. The latest multimedia “edutainment” campaign is intended to reach previously untapped populations between the ages of 15 to 24 as AIDS remains the leading cause of death among ages 10 to 24 in Africa.
“Millions of people in Africa watch MTV Shuga,” said Lelio Marmora, executive director of Unitaid. “Our partnership with MTV Staying Alive gives us a terrific opportunity to reach young people who don’t have reliable health information and empower them to take charge of their health — including testing themselves for HIV.”
The series is set to debut in South Africa and Côte d’Ivoire between 2018 and 2020.
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:
Over the course of a nine-season, 13-year television run that also included three motion pictures, Nickelodeon’s beloved Rugrats crawled and waddled their way to four Daytime Emmy Awards and a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.
Now, the beloved tykes are returning to both television and movie theaters via Nickelodeon and Paramount Pictures’ Paramount Players division. This cross-brand collaboration, which will maximize Rugrats’ reach across platforms and among varied audiences, is Viacom’s latest effort to tap the value of its deep intellectual property well by fully activating the power of its brand ecosystem in support of marquee franchises and talent.
“Rugrats is hands-down one of the most celebrated cartoons in TV history, and we are thrilled for a whole new audience to meet these iconic characters in brand-new adventures,” said Viacom Media Networks COO and Nickelodeon Interim President Sarah Levy. “What was true in 1991 when the original show premiered is still true today: kids are fascinated with the world of babies. We can’t wait for today’s kids to meet Tommy, Chuckie and pals.”
The 26-episode comeback season is already under production at Nickelodeon’s Burbank studio, under the supervision of original creators and series executive producers Arlene Klasky, Gábor Csupó and Paul Germain. The as-yet-untitled fourth Rugrats movie, slated for a November 13, 2020 release, will be a live-action film with CGI characters.
Nickelodeon’s vault holds some of the most iconic names in children’s entertainment, and the network is moving deliberately to resurrect select properties that resonate with today’s audiences, both on Nick’s networks and on third-party platforms. Last year’s Hey Arnold! special sent the Hillwood crew back to television, and an updated Blue’s Clues series is in the works, along with special events featuring fan favorites Rocko’s Modern Life and Invader Zim. Through a studio model that is proliferating across Viacom, Nick will also produce two full animated seasons of infectiously positive teenage hotdog Pinky Malinky for Netflix.
Rugrats, which last aired new episodes in 2004, has always proved popular with moviegoers. The trio of Paramount Pictures-distributed films – The Rugrats Movie, Rugrats in Paris: The Movie, and Rugrats Go Wild – grossed nearly $300 million in total box office between 1998 and 2003. The forthcoming film will be the seventh project announced by Paramount Players, which develops and produces co-branded feature films with Viacom Media Networks.
“Now feels like the ideal time to reintroduce this iconic cast of characters to a whole new generation of young fans,” said Paramount Players President Brian Robbins. “Kids who grew up with Tommy Pickles and the Rugrats crew will now be able to share that experience with their own children.”
Kids interested in learning about endangered species can watch Together for Good Wildlife Special, in which Breanna Yde of Nick’s School of Rock guides viewers on a journey through Uganda. On the tour, she discovers key conservation and environmental challenges, and hears from heroes who work daily to protect at-risk wildlife including lions, giraffes, rhinoceroses, elephants and chimpanzees. Digital vignettes supplement the story, creating a vivid, immersive world.
The special was produced through a partnership with the African Wildlife Foundation and Nick International’s social responsibility initiative, Together for Good. The goal is to raise awareness about endangered wildlife and act as a call to action, using Nickelodeon’s globally recognized brand to empower kids to become change-makers.
Nickelodeon star Breanna Yde guides viewers on a journey through Uganda in Nickelodeon International’s Together For Good Wildlife Special, Photo courtesy of Nickelodeon International.