In September, the People’s Choice Awards announced nominees for their 44th annual show. Viacom earned 30 shortlist spots for its shows and movies, and 13 finalist nominations for awards at the ceremony on Sunday, Nov. 11.
Nicole Buccheri works as a legal operations coordinator for Viacom’s corporate legal department, specializing in billing and finance. Buccheri says she likes working with numbers, and has found a niche in the company analyzing legal vendor rates and drafting cost reports for management.
In August, Buccheri switched gears and witnessed life at Viacom through a different lens, as the latest winner of Viacom’s sweepstakes that sends employees to tentpole award shows. She won two tickets to attend the pinnacle of pop culture: the MTV VMAs, held this year at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
The 2018 MTV VMAs, captured by Viacom employee Nicole Buccheri. Photos courtesy of Nicole Buccheri.
Last night, VH1 broke yet another benchmark at the 70th Primetime Emmy Awards, as RuPaul’s Drag Race won its fifth Emmy this year (after racking up four at the Creative Arts Emmys last week) for the category of Outstanding Reality-Competition Program. Drag Race is now the first show in history to earn an Emmy for best reality series and best reality host in the same year. The awards, like Ru’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, are yet another symbol of the show’s enduring popularity, critical acclaim, and cultural impact.
Fans have embraced Drag Race for its universally accessible message of self-love and acceptance – especially in recent years. The show is a beacon of resistance and hope set against a tense political climate; sprinkling glitter and feathers in the face of bigotry.
In light of RuPaul’s seismic sweep, Vanity Fairfilm critic K. Austin Collins underscored how Drag Race, a diverse, controversial and intimate show, has etched its mark on Hollywood and the entertainment industry:
“On a night that was host to what S.N.L. star and Emmy nominee Kenan Thompson called “the most diverse nominees in Emmy history,” it was only appropriate that one award—for outstanding reality-television program—should push the event beyond the usual questions of race and gender.
RuPaul’s Drag Race—the most culturally influential queer show on television, as well as one of the most consistently racially diverse—tackles all of the above, rambunctiously, complicatedly, and at times controversially, but just as often with love.”
Earlier this summer, Viacom’s Campus to Career program hosted its inaugural Multicultural Media Summit at the company’s New York City headquarters. The day-long series of executive panels and Q&A sessions focused on the future of television/media, spelled out unwritten rules for career success, and offered inside advice on landing a job or internship at Viacom. Students from universities across the nation presented a pitch to top Viacom leaders, then joined a networking session with executives, Viacom recruiters, and representatives from diversity partner organizations.
Clockwise from bottom left: BET Networks EVP and GM Michael Armstrong addresses the crowd; attendees gather in the amphitheater at Viacom’s world headquarters in Times Square; a brainstorming session after the event.
Here are six of the quotes that best defined the summit’s energy and positive message:
“Whether or not you realize it, today could be your very first day working in media. We hope you learn something. We hope you’re inspired, and we hope you inspire one another.” – Michael Armstrong, Executive Vice President and GM, BET
2. “Be a good storyteller. At the end of the day, even when you were a little kid, all you wanted was for someone to tell you a good story.” – Rob Gregory, President, WHOSAY
Viacom executives at the Campus to Career Multicultural Media Summit. From L to R: Michael Armstrong, BET EVP & GM; Sean Coar, SVP, Data Strategy; Rob Gregory, President, WHOSAY; Zuri Rice, SVP, Original Short Form Content, Viacom Digital Studios – Nickelodeon
3. “Diversity is at the core of business. It makes good business sense to be as broad as possible and to have as many voices building your content as possible.” – Zuri Rice, Senior Vice President, Viacom Digital Studios (Nickelodeon Short-Form Content)
4. “You have to set the tone for yourself. How you show up and the narrative you set for yourself dictates how people will treat you. People will look at you the way you want to be seen. When you know who people are and not just what they do, you win the race.” – Michele Thornton Ghee, Senior Vice President, Ad Sales, BET Her
Rather than heading home to relax in air-conditioned apartments or neighborhood bars after work on Wednesday, July 25, a group of Paramount Pictures employees chose to spend the night volunteering outside in the summer heat.
Embracing the Viacommunity spirit of “All good, all around,” Paramount’s volunteers gave back to kids in their local community with an evening of activities and an outdoor screening of Paramount’s animated flick Sherlock Gnomes at Los Angeles’ Lemon Grove Park.
“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.
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:
Bozoma Saint John, self-described “force of nature in fierce stilettos” and newly minted chief marketing officer for entertainment company Endeavor, came to Viacom’s Times Square headquarters in May to share career wisdom and empowering life advice with Viacom employees at an event organized by the company’s Office of Global Inclusion.
Michele Thornton Ghee, BET Her senior vice president of Ad Sales, moderated the discussion with Endeavor’s chief marketing officer Bozoma Saint John at Viacom Headquarters in May 2018.
At Viacom’s employee event, Saint John strutted in wearing six-inch designer heels, looking every bit the #girlboss: poised, commanding and unapologetically stylish. In an ebullient exchange with long-time friend and moderator Michele Thornton Ghee, BET Her senior vice president of Ad Sales, Saint John traced her non-traditional life and explained how the unique worldview that it formed drove her success in a traditional business world.
The numbers speak for themselves – the BET Awards are: the top cable awards show in the key 18-49 demographic for the fourth consecutive year*; the top cable awards among African-Americans 18-49 for the 17th straight year; and the most social cable awards show year-to-date and most social program of the night, sparking 2.1 million interactions (+89 percent total engagements from 2017) across Facebook and Twitter, topping even soccer’s World Cup for online buzz.
LOS ANGELES, CA – JUNE 24: Janelle Monae (C) performs onstage at the 2018 BET Awards at Microsoft Theater on June 24, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Paras Griffin/VMN18/Getty Images for BET)
Strong performances and a broad-based award slate that honors everything from the best in music (Cardi B, Drake, Kendrick Lamar), to industry legends (eight-time Grammy-winner Anita Baker, former BET CEO Debra Lee), and humanitarian achievements (Parkland hero Anthony Borges, 11-year-old March For Our Lives speaker Naomi Wadler), fused to drive the strong ratings and social metrics for the BET Awards. In a lineup that included Janelle Monae’s acrobatic rapping, a surprise appearance by J. Cole, and a multi-genre performance by Snoop Dogg, Meek Mill met universal acclaim for what the Washington Post called, “the night’s most powerful performance,” addressing a matrix of issues from police brutality to mass incarceration on a recreated street corner in his new single Stay Woke: