CMT Awards’ Immersive Fans Festival Boosts Viacom’s Live Events Strategy

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

More than 2 million fans dialed up the CMT Awards earlier this month, watching across three Viacom networks (CMT, Paramount Network and TV Land), as Blake Shelton took Video of the Year and Male Video of the Year for I’ll Name the Dogs, and Carrie Underwood carried Female Video of the Year for The Champion, featuring Ludacris. Little Big Town hosted. Dan + Shay scored an upset Duo Video of the Year win for Tequila. Luke Bryan, Dierks Bentley and Florida Georgia Line debuted energetic new singles. Even the Backstreet Boys picked up an award.

And don’t forget about the Royal Family spoof:

CMT Music Awards

But for some fans, that parade of star power across their screens just isn’t enough. For the second consecutive year, thousands of the most dedicated descended upon Nashville for the CMT Summer of Music Festival, which this year sprawled across three days and five events and drew an estimated 25,000 fans.

“Last year, we evolved the CMT Music Awards from a one-night-only-TV event into a multi-day festival spread across the city,” CMT General Manager Frank Tanki told Billboard. “It was a huge success with fans and advertiser partners alike, allowing everyone involved to experience CMT is an entirely new and powerful way.”

This multiday meeting of high-powered sponsors (Ram Trucks, Boston Beer, Kind Bar, Pedigree pet food), with rollicking events (a puppy festival, an emerging-artists concert, a taping of Crossroads, a block party), injects a multidimensional element into CMT’s marquee event.

Fans in Nashville for the awards would usually just “end up at the honky tonks on lower Broadway,” CMT Senior Vice President of Partnerships Adam Steingart told Variety. “But there’s so much more to provide to them that enhances the overall experience.”

NASHVILLE, TN – JUNE 06: Little Big Town performs onstage at the 2018 CMT Music Awards at Bridgestone Arena on June 6, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images for CMT)

This broadening of an annual awards show into an immersive fan adventure is a strategy long used by CMT’s fellow Viacom network BET, which hosts the four-day BET Experience (which is ongoing now through June 24 in Los Angeles), leading up to its annual BET Awards (this Sunday, June 24). This increasing focus on live events is in fact proliferating across Viacom, as the company increasingly diversifies outside of its core business under President and CEO Bob Bakish.

“Again, the events space in this fiscal year, every flagship brand [NickelodeonNick Jr.MTVBETComedy CentralParamount Network], will have an events in the U.S.,” Bakish told a gathering of investors at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference in March. “That is something that was not true before. So, that’s Nickelodeon, that’s Comedy Central … So, that’s an important incremental activity and one that consumers and advertisers and for that matter, talent, like.”

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Viacom Wins 90 Awards at PromaxBDA 2018

Viacom brands totalled 90 North America PromaxBDA Promotion, Marketing and Design Awards at a gala in New York on June 14.

Nickelodeon (21 awards), Comedy Central (27), the Paramount Network (7), Paramount Channel (6), BET (2), MTV (4), Viacom Velocity (6), Viacom Catalyst (1), Viacom18 (10) and VIMN (5) were widely represented across the Gold, Silver and Bronze awards in various categories for domestic and international productions.

Additionally, PromaxBDA honored Debra Lee, BET’s long-time former CEO, with its Lifetime Achievement Award for “her decades of achievement in our entertainment and media industry.”

Congratulations to Lee and to all of Viacom’s PromaxBDA winners and shortlist honorees. Take a look at the full list of winners for each division below:

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Paramount Network Scores Year’s Top-Rated Scripted Cable Premiere Among Women

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

American Woman premiered June 7 on Paramount Network. Pictured [L to R]: Mena Suvari, Cheyenne Jackson, Alicia Silverstone, Jennifer Bartels.

American Woman premiered on Paramount Network earlier this month, delivering viewers into a meticulously recreated 1970s Los Angeles, where emerging women’s empowerment clashed with the stubborn and smothering traditions of an old-guard patriarchy.

The series, starring Alicia Silverstone as a bold divorcée who struggles to raise two daughters after dumping her cheating husband, resonated immediately, drawing in more than one million viewers and establishing itself as the year’s highest-rated half-hour scripted series on cable in the key women’s 18-49 and 25-54 demographics. It was also the top social comedy series on Thursday night (per Nielsen).

That American Woman debuted to stellar reviews didn’t hurt. Silverstone especially has been a critical favorite.

“Plain and simple, Silverstone is perfect casting here, and she is great in this role,” wrote Decider’s Lea Palmieri. “She nails the humor, she looks fantastic, and she delivers the intended message and that go-getter attitude in her signature, captivating style. It’s enjoyable to see this woman in particular portray another woman who is as determined to start a new life as she once was to help a classmate become cool.”

Working alongside co-stars Mena Suvari and Jennifer Bartels, Silverstone struggles through a 1970s world that, in its musical score, its publicly abrasive treatment of women, its clothes and its cars, is as convincing as it is alien to an observer from 2018.

“The success of a period piece like American Woman, which deals with an era that at least some of its audience will have known in person, depends greatly on the quality of the atmosphere it creates,” writes MediaPost’s Adam Buckman, who counts himself among those who experienced the 1970s IRL. “This show gets an A+ in this department, including wardrobe, locations, cars and interior décor.”

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Viacom Activates Powerful Studio Model Growth Driver As MTV, Nick Move Into Third-Party Production

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Pinky Malinky is an upbeat teenager who has a lot in common with his peers: he posts rabidly on social media, he hangs out nonstop with his two best pals, and he constantly must navigate the social pressures of school and life. But there’s one very important thing that will make Pinky unique among Nickelodeon characters (besides the fact that he’s a talking hotdog): when his show debuts later this year, fans will find him exclusively on Netflix.

But Pinky won’t likely be alone for long – across Viacom’s ecosystem, brands are digging into their vaults to identify intellectual property that could be an ideal fit for a digital or linear programmer outside of Viacom. MTV, under the banner of MTV Studios, is for the first time cracking open its rich, 35-year archive to offer its iconic, youth-centric content – Real World, Daria, Aeon Flux, the Emmy Award-winning Made, just to start – in new or reimagined form on non-Viacom platforms. In addition to strategically tapping the 200 titles in its massive library, MTV Studios will churn out new ones, including, to start, The Valley (working title), about a group of friends growing up in the U.S.-Mexico border town of Nogales, and MTV’s Straight Up Ghosted, in which victims of this mobile-age abandonment will confront their disappearing former intimates.

Similar efforts will follow at other Viacom networks.

This studio model – under which Viacom will license and produce new episodes of fully owned content for third parties – will present an enormous growth opportunity, as the company’s brands increasingly feed the insatiable global demand for premium content.

Viacom is uniquely positioned to do this. The company’s voluminous original content libraries house an enormous number of beloved properties that speak deeply to their fans. Its archives stretch back decades – and, in the case of Paramount Pictures, more than a century. Its properties resonate deeply with high-value audiences: kids (Nickelodeon), African-Americans (BET), youth (MTV), the LGBTQ community (Logo), and more. Viacom’s global footprint means that those audiences stretch across cultures and borders. As the first port-of-call for creatives pitching shows tailor-made for these audiences, Viacom’s brands are keenly aware of what is in the market. Its production expertise is second to none.

And even as these sorts of deals multiply, Viacom will retain all consumer products rights for all properties, fueling the company’s increasingly robust consumer products operation.

The possibilities for third-party licensing and production are practically limitless. Pinky Malinky – which will feature Nick branding at the show open and embodies Nickelodeon’s patented spirit of fun and surprising stories and characters – is just the first of up to a dozen properties that the brand is positioning for reboots or co-productions this year alone.

Valen-time to hang out with my best friends! ❤️❤️ @babs_buttman @jj_james0n

A post shared by Pinky Malinky (@pinky_malinky) on

“Proliferating distribution platforms create incremental demand for VIAB’s [Viacom’s] content because high-quality branded content is one of the most valuable forms of differentiation for competing distribution platforms,” Needham declared in a bullish March analysis of the company’s stock. “VIAB’s film and television libraries represent differentiated, globally scalable, long-lived content.”

Take, for example, Jack Ryan, the Tom Clancy action hero who fought his way through five Paramount Pictures films, starting with 1990’s The Hunt for Red October. The quintuplet of movies grossed hundreds of millions of dollars and still carries strong brand recognition and a built-in fanbase. But while there is no obvious basecamp for Ryan within Viacom’s current brand archipelago, his bulletproof vest is a perfect fit for Amazon Video, which will debut the 10-part Jack Ryan series in August.

This branching out into third-party content production has been subtly underway for some time, both in the United States and abroad. Paramount Television, the production arm of Paramount Pictures that is producing Jack Ryan, has quietly built a $400 million-per-year business from scratch by producing premium content like Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why and USA Network’s Shooter.

In May, Viacom International Studios (VIS) united the extensive production capabilities of wholly Viacom-owned Argentinian broadcaster Telefe and majority-owned Brazilian comedy brand Porta dos Fundos with Viacom’s Miami-based production operations, creating a multi-lingual machine that will develop, produce and distribute original content around the world. A matrix of SVOD, pay TV and free-to-air distribution deals will place VIS-produced long-form series (Borges on Netflix in Latin America), cinematic adaptations (Telefe’s Animal on Fox Networks’ platforms in Latin America), telenovelas (Vikki RPM on Caracol Televisión in Colombia), and co-productions (Club 57 on Rainbow Group in Italy and Nickelodeon elsewhere) in diverse markets and maximize the potential of formerly regional or local properties.

These licensing deals will therefore sprinkle tastes of Nickelodeon and MTV and Telefe and other Viacom properties throughout the global content ecosystem, while segmenting the full brand experience for consumers who subscribe to a Viacom linear or digital distributor. Even so, this nascent third-party production is already acting as a powerful growth driver as Viacom diversifies outside of its core television business under President and CEO Bob Bakish.

“Building on the success of Paramount Television and Telefe’s quickly growing production business, we’re going to much more aggressively tap into the huge demand for content and unlock more of our IP and production and creative capabilities to drive incremental revenues from third-party platforms,” Bakish said on Viacom’s second-quarter 2018 earnings call in April. “This isn’t just an idea. … there is a lot of interest from SVOD partners in licensing library properties from MTV and Nickelodeon IP for brand-new interpretations. At the same time, we’re also developing new IP for the sector and have already closed deals for brand-new original Nick IP and animation with third parties and we see more in the pipeline.”

Younger Notches Record Ratings as Season Five Heats Up

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Younger keeps getting stronger. The TV Land mainstay’s fourth season, which wrapped last September, was the highest-rated and most-watched in the show’s history. Liza and the gang then outdid themselves by landing as the No. 1 original ad-supported cable sitcom with the key women’s demographics of 18-49 and 25-54 (Nielsen, L+3) for all of 2017.

Kelsey, Josh, Charles and company are back for season five, and the intricate web of rivalries and romances spinning around central character Liza’s secret (she’s 40 and pretending to be 25), are resonating with viewers more than ever. Episode two, which followed up on the #MeToo-centric, jaw-dropper-filled season premiere, marked the highest-rated and most-watched second week performance in series history. More than 1.2 million average viewers watched, good for a 1.21 rating among women 25-54, and .81 ratings among all adults in that age group. Take a look:

With new bombshells dropping each episode of the Darren Star-produced hit, ratings could stay strong for the remainder of this season’s seven-episode run.

TV Land has already renewed Younger for season six. Watch new episodes every Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET.

Ratings and Viewership Jump Double-Digits for MTV Movie & TV Awards

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Ratings and viewership soared for this year’s MTV Movie & TV Awards, as the network strategically shifted the air date to a June Monday and commissioned the red-hot Tiffany Haddish as host.

Across 10 Viacom-owned networks, 3.371 million viewers (a 21 percent increase over 2017), watched as Millie Bobby Brown pushed back at bullies and Haddish spoofed the year’s top films and TV shows. Viewers in key demographics drove the ratings increase, with the 18-34 group surging from a 1.85 rating last year to 2.24 this year –  a 21 percent jump – and those 18-49 pushing from a 1.63 to 2.04 share, an increase of 25 percent. Looking solely at MTV and VH1, the numbers grew even more explosively, with a 30 percent jump among viewers 18-34 and a 35 percent rise in the 18-49 demo.

The buzz carried over to social, where the MTV Movie & TV Awards beat the World Cup for most social show on television (per Nielsen), nearly doubling last year’s total and setting show records with more than 83 million streams (and counting). #MTVAwards trended No. 1 in the U.S. and globally over the course of the two-hour telecast.

In order to maximize the show’s potential audience, MTV made a few calculated decisions when choosing its airdate. First, they moved the awards from their traditional Sunday broadcast to Monday, when MTV and VH1 tend to draw strong viewership.

Second, MTV pushed the show down the calendar from May to June, slotting it in the midst of the June pre-nomination Emmy-voting window. This strategic positioning may have encouraged star turnout – Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Chris Pratt, as well as cast members of Riverdale, Keeping Up with the Kardashians and Stranger Things all accepted their Golden Popcorn buckets onstage at Santa Monica’s Barker Hangar. This star power, in turn, could have drawn fans.

“The date change was a draw for networks and streaming platforms, and talent looking for opportunities to get their content out there during this key window,” MTV, VH1 and Logo General Manager Amy Doyle told Indiewire’s Michael Schneider before the awards aired. “And you’ll see that in full effect when watching the show.”

But the crisply edited, entertaining show drew a lot of attention on its own merits.

“After sitting through countless bloated awards shows indulging themselves for three or four hours at a time, the 2018 MTV Movie & TV Awards were a genuine relief — and in a delightful twist, even genuinely heartwarming,” wrote Variety’s Caroline Framke. “Airing Monday night after taping Saturday, the edited ceremony ran just two hours long but managed to squeeze in 15 awards, two musical performances, and several pre-taped sketches featuring host Tiffany Haddish. … By the night’s end, it was hard to understand why other awards show don’t follow suit more often.”

“… it was the best version of this show I’ve ever watched,” added Entertainment Weekly’s Darren Franich.

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Team Viacom Runs the Central Park Night at 42nd J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

The Viacom employees’ identical black racing shirts bore a lightning bolt back-dropping a three-word statement of intent: Run the Night. In the clear and humid May evening they did exactly that, dashing through 3.5 miles of hills and springtime trees in Manhattan’s Central Park, a 150-member collective scattered amid 15,000 workers from 329 companies bounding through the 42nd annual J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge.

Viacom employees gather before the first night of the J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge in Central Park on May 30, 2018.

Leading Team Viacom’s women’s group with a time of 25:42 was Alyssa Curci, a senior manager of vendor management in the company’s Media and Technology Services group.

“The energy was amazing,” Curci, who was participating in her first Corporate Challenge, recalled. “Everybody was excited to be there.”

Curci, who swam competitively at Division 1 Lehigh University, took up running after moving to New York City. She now runs three to five miles at least two days per week along the running paths that trace the rivers surrounding Manhattan.

As someone who joined Viacom just the month before the race, Curci appreciated elements of the challenge beyond the opportunity for an employer-sanctioned workout.

“I’m trying to meet a lot of the employees in Viacom, so this is a really nice opportunity,” Curci recalled. “When you’re the new person somewhere, it can be very intimidating, and you want to be a part of the group and a part of the family, and the fact that anyone who wanted to participate was allowed to was great. It’s an inviting culture, which is something that I really value about Viacom. It’s why I joined the company.”

Alyssa Curci, left, and Ross McGraw, right, finished tops in the female and male categories among their Viacom colleagues at the 2018 J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge.

For at least the third consecutive year, Ross McGraw finished first among all Viacom employees – and 15th overall – with a time of 18:47.

That McGraw finished near the top of the standings is little surprise – he is a committed athlete who placed first in the ITU World Triathlon in Bermuda earlier this year and will compete in triathlons in Philadelphia and New York City as a City Coach athlete over the coming two weekends. He will also compete in the USA Triathlon AG Nationals in Cleveland in August, race as an Elite-license-carrying Pro at the Ironman 70.3 in Lake Placid in September, and start as part of the Local Elite group in November’s New York City Marathon.

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“We Feel Great About Where Viacom Is Today,” CFO Wade Davis Tells Gabelli Conference

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

NEW YORK, NY – APRIL 08: Viacom CFO Wade Davis attends the 2014 UJA-Federation of New York’s Leadership Awards Dinner at Pier Sixty at Chelsea Piers on April 8, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Taylor Hill/FilmMagic)

“We feel great about where Viacom is today,” Viacom Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Wade Davis told an audience of investors at the recent Gabelli Movie & Entertainment Conference. “From a fundamental standpoint, we think a lot of the strategies that we’ve been focused on and putting in place are paying off. … the first half of 2018, our fiscal 2018 is really a transition into delivering growth in the second half of 2018 and beyond, and we feel really good about that, focus 100 percent on delivering that.”

Here are a few more highlights from Davis’ remarks at the event. You can listen to the full event here.

Advanced Marketing Solutions and strong linear pricing are driving ad sales growth

“Pricing is incredibly strong right now in the linear market … So the growth is coming from what we call our Advanced Marketing Solutions portfolio or AMS [advanced addressable inventory and brand solutions]. So between those two areas – advanced addressable inventory where we’re activating new pools generally of non-linear inventory that are addressable in nature, and brand solutions – we have a portfolio business that as we’ve said publicly is going to approach $300 million this year. It’s really — it’s growing 40-plus-or-minus percent quarter-over-quarter, and we think that rate of growth will carry into 2019, and actually in the first part of 2019 accelerate.”

Growth comes over the top  

“So when you think about where Viacom is, we’re extremely well represented in the traditional distributor-led virtual MVPDs [multichannel video programming distributor]. That’s Sling, that’s DIRECTV NOW, and those are really the virtual MVPDs that matter. … We’d love to be on [Hulu and YouTube], we’re in discussions with those guys all the time. … And as we’ve gone through and stabilized our relationships with the traditional distributors, we’ve had a lot of success in getting ourselves very well positioned with respect to any virtual or OTT product that any of those traditional distributors will launch.”

Mobile is a global growth engine

“Mobile is a place where we’re significantly benefited by our global business. We made a lot of investments in bringing mobile bundles to market internationally. I guess we’ve announced at the moment five different partnerships that we have with mobile distributors around the world in which we’re licensing some form of bundle of our content into the mobile distributors. … And we’re in very advanced discussions with the three biggest operators in the United States, feel very good about where we’re positioned with them.”

Cornerstone networks in major international markets and mobile are driving growth outside the U.S.

“The [international] business is growing double digits, both top line and bottom line. … We operate in 180 countries. We have cornerstones in the biggest, most important markets, India and Asia, UK, which is the most attractive largest media market outside of the United States, and we’re the number one broadcaster in Argentina … And then there are some underlying trends that we think are different than the domestic market. … You do have a much more progressive mobile infrastructure [internationally]. As we said, a lot of these international markets, their principal Internet access is mobile and consequently their mobile offerings are a lot more mature. … And there’s also some of the same trends and tailwinds that we’re seeing in the SVOD [subscription video on demand] marketplace, domestically are starting to play themselves out globally.”

A “world-class team of operators” is transforming Paramount Pictures

“Every member of [Paramount Pictures’] senior management team except for the CFO is new. … We’ve completely overhauled all of the processes, the green light process, development process, global marketing, et cetera. So the business is running much more efficiently. We have a world class team of operators who bring new energy to the studio. … [and Paramount Television] should do about $400 million of revenue this year, and should, for the first time, be a contributor to operating income. It’s important to keep in mind that this is really still a startup. … it’s still in a growth phase, and we expect very, very strong double-digit growth on the revenue base above and beyond the $400 million that we expect this year.”

A “forever effort” transformation will save Viacom hundreds of millions of dollars

“…  when you think about our focus on margin enhancement, it really relates to efficiencies outside of content investment. So we’ve announced that we’ve undertaken a cost transformation effort. And for us, that’s not just a onetime restructuring. I think a lot of media companies and even Viacom historically would, from time to time, announce a restructuring in which they would write off some content, let some people go. But this is an effort that we view as a forever effort and something that’s part of the new culture that we’re trying to build. We have a team that’s a full-time team staffed focused on this. We’ve been very public about the amount of savings that we’re going to be able to deliver out of the current efforts being more than $100 million in the current year and in excess of $300 million in 2019 and beyond.”

A comprehensive reimagining of the content pipeline is connecting Viacom networks with their natural audiences

“The big issue for us and the big opportunity for us is bringing the focus that we’ve cited around our flagship six networks, being able to concentrate the spend where it matters most and being very precise about what the programming strategy and the brand promises for each of those brands. … So a good example of that is MTV which had historically been dabbling in very expensive scripted programming. That scripted programming is not programming that worked particularly well on MTV for MTV’s audience, and it consumed a ton of dollars for a very small amount of hours. Not enough hours to actually have MTV be a destination for high-end scripted dramas. So what we’ve done is we’ve concentrated our efforts around high-end scripted on the Paramount Network. As it relates to MTV it’s allowed us for really in some cases less money dramatically increased the amount of original programming that we have on the network, but most importantly, it’s programming that’s aligned with a vision that’s important to MTV’s audience.”

SpongeBob SquarePants’ Glittering, Inventive Set Design Wins Tony

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Glittering and inventive, a burst of pastels evoking its cartoon namesake, the set of SpongeBob SquarePants the Broadway Musical pumps riotous life into the critically acclaimed show. On Sunday evening, that backdrop, designed by Broadway veteran David Zinn, earned a Tony Award for Best Scenic Design of a Musical.

The set design, which The New York Times describes as “a bright, found-object aesthetic that mixes Pee-wee’s Playhouse, Etsy craft, classic MGM musicals and acid-house clubland,” marks Zinn’s second Tony (he earned top honors for Scenic Design of a Play in 2016 for his work on The Humans), and seventh nomination (he also earned a nomination for SpongeBob in this year’s costume design category).

The set bursts with an inventive array of found objects repurposed as SpongeBob’s undersea domain: pool noodles, floaty devices, shopping carts, umbrellas, surfboards. “In terms of influences, we referenced this sort of ’60s beach culture viewed through an ’80s sensibility,” Zinn told Time Out New York. “It was all about achieving beauty through a fun sensibility and simple materials.”

SpongeBob SquarePants, which earned a dozen total Tony nominations, is one of two current Broadway shows inspired by Viacom’s deep well of intellectual property. The other, Mean Girls, based on the 2004 Paramount Pictures film of the same name, earned 12 nominations. Both are an important part of Viacom’s deliberate strategic move into live events, where fans can connect with beloved characters in a new formats.

Both productions are ongoing in New York City. You can buy tickets to SpongeBob SquarePants at the Palace Theater here and to Mean Girls at the August Wilson Theater here.

Volunteer Spotlight: Taryn Sauthoff Uses Tech Talent for Good

Editor’s note: Viacom’s partner, Catchafire, originally published the article below on Medium. The two organizations collaborate on the Talent for Good program, which creates opportunities for Viacom employees to put their skills to work in the community.

Taryn Sauthoff, a Viacom employee in New York, is the embodiment of Talent for Good at work. She applied her web development skills to help YoungMoms, a non-profit organization that supports pregnant and parenting young women in rural Pennsylvania, build a new website. Sauthoff completed the volunteer project in a few months and continues to collaborate with the organization.

The homepage of YoungMoms, which Taryn Sauthoff helped develop.

Below is an excerpt from her testimonial:

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