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:
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.”
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.
Laugh with Majah Hype, wake up with Nikki Glaser, cook with Snooki, get animated with JoJo – and do it all on your phone.
Viacom Digital Studios (VDS) is here, poised to deliver hundreds of hours of premium digital content that will transport digital native stars from BET, Comedy Central, MTV and Nickelodeon to the social and mobile platforms where their fans live.
This was the headline of Viacom’s spectacular first NewFront event earlier this week at Manhattan’s Chelsea Piers, where the company marched confidently into the digital realm by detailing dozens of new short-form properties to feed its massive online social footprint of more than 850 million fans, elaborating on new content deals with Snap and Twitter, and announcing an expansion of its recently acquired VidCon conference to London this February.
“The launch of Viacom Digital Studios is an amazing opportunity to reimagine our iconic brands for a new generation of young, mobile-first audiences,” said VDS President Kelly Day. “We’re bringing the power and scale of Viacom’s global content engine and storytelling capabilities to entertain and engage our fans whenever and wherever they’re consuming content.”
VDS has been steadily ramping up since Day joined Viacom late last year, jolting year-over-year social video views and minutes viewed in the U.S. upward by 70 (to 4.3 billion) and 78 percent (to 4.7 billion), respectively.
The digital studio is a lynchpin of Viacom CEO Bob Bakish’s revitalization plan, as the company moves deliberately to expand its core television business onto next-generation platforms.
It’s official: The Moon Person has landed on East Coast soil. On April 17, New York City officials and MTV celebrated the return of the MTV VMAs to New York’s Radio City Music Hall—home of the inaugural VMA ceremony in 1984.
A symbolic “moon landing” was held on Manhattan’s Avenue of the America’s under the venue’s marquee to commemorate the reunion of MTV and NYC.
Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment Commissioner Julie Menin today joined the iconic VMA Moon Person; Bruce Gillmer, Global Head of Music/Talent, Co-Brand Lead, MTV International; and Darren Pfeffer, Executive Vice President of MSG live, to announce the location of the 2018 VMAs. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for MTV)
“New York City’s creative energy has always fueled those who live and work here. This is where music, film, and art collide and where the Video Music Awards were born,” said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. “There is no better place to host the MTV VMAs than in New York City at one of the most iconic venues in the world.”
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 Shorein 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.”
“How can the country that elected Donald Trump president be the same country that rates hip-hop as the number one mainstream genre?”
This is the question that opened Viacom’s Hype & Influence panel, moderated by Marketing Strategy’s Brooke Ozaydinli and featuring MTV’s Wanda Coriano, BET Music & Talent’s Bianca Edwards, and rapper Maliibu Miitch. The exploration of the state of Hip-Hop in today’s culture was a Black History Month event organized at the company’s Times Square headquarters by The BEAT (Viacom’s employee resource group devoted to the African-American experience), the Marketing Strategy team, and the BET Music Meeting.
“It’s not surprising,” Edwards said to Ozaydinli’s opening question, “because hip-hop thrives in environments with oppression and adversity.”
The Hype & Influence panel built on a video series of the same name, created by Viacom’s V By Viacom platform to explore cultural trends. The first edition, featuring BET’s Connie Orlando, 300 Entertainment co-founder Kevin Liles, and Miitch explored the same themes as the panel, which opened with a viewing:
Here are a few other highlights from the afternoon, from thoughts on the authenticity of Cardi B to the power and potential perils of hip-hop:
“People are used to everything being cookie-cutter”
Miitch addressed why she thought people connected with Cardi B, whose Bodak Yellow video has been viewed nearly a half billion times on YouTube. “People are used to everything being cookie-cutter,” she said, “but with an artist like Cardi, who doesn’t filter herself, people connect with her because she says out loud the things that people are thinking.”
Sparking a love of music
Coriano grew up in The Bronx hearing hip-hop on the streets, forming the foundation of her love for music across genres. “Living in the Bronx, hip-hop was my music and it was the music of that time.”
Maliibu Miitch and members of her Atlantic Records management team at the Hype & Influence panel, held at Viacom’s Times Square headquarters in honor of Black History Month. Photo by Pound & Grain.
Should children listen to hip-hop?
During the event’s question-and-answer portion, I sparked an extended debate when I asked about the relationship between kids and hip-hop. Miitch argued that parents do a lot of things in front of their kids that could be deemed worse than what artists rap about. “People rap about their truth and it’s not something to hide from children,” she said.
Coriano made the point that kids don’t always understand what is being said, and sometimes just like a song because they can dance to it or it has a nice beat. You can keep kids away from that sort of music, or give them a censored version, since many elements of hip-hop can be educational – she pointed to Logic’s 1-800-273-8255 or Kendrick Lamar’s songs about Injustice.
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.
On Friday, March 16, RuPaul Charles werked his way down Hollywood’s Walk of Fame in one of his dashing tartan suits and trademark glasses. The entertainment icon and LGBT advocate was finally cementing his status as a Hollywood legend, with a gleaming bronze star.
RuPaul is not only the newest member of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, he’s the only drag star to be inducted.
“This is absolutely the most important moment in my professional career,” said RuPaul in a speech at the ceremony.
Actress Jane Fonda introduced RuPaul, telling the crowd that he deserves a star at least three times the size of anyone else’s, to match the colossal contributions he’s made to entertainment and society at large.
“Behind the glamour, behind the drag queen is a man of great depth, incredible intelligence and compassion,” said Fonda.