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.”
Viacom President and CEO Bob Bakish appeared on CNBC’s Squawk on the Street yesterday, joining co-host David Faber from backstage at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference.
“Viacom is a story of turnaround and evolution,” Bakish said, before detailing the company’s progress ramping up its studio production business, expanding its digital presence, improving affiliate relationships and revenue, and adapting Viacom to an increasingly digital landscape.
“My job is to move Viacom forward, turn it around, evolve it, make sure it’s a vibrant company for the future to benefit our shareholders, our employees and all our partners, that’s job one, that’s what we’re doing,” Bakish said.
Here are a few highlights of the conversation:
“Viacom is a story of turnaround and evolution”
“Viacom is a story of turnaround and evolution. And on the turnaround side, we’ve had a lot of progress on distribution, and on the evolution side – which is really where this fits – we’ve announced recently that we’re ramping up our studio production, including on our flagship brands, on MTV and Comedy Central and Nickelodeon, and that’s about getting those brands represented in third-party platforms, so that consumers who might not have a full bundle still has access to these brands, still think of them in their entertainment experience, and by the way, could be promotion to bring people into a bigger bundle.”
Viacom is increasingly Over The Top
“[Philo – which includes Viacom – is] a low price point, entertainment skinny bundle delivered via OTT. … AT&T Watch is essentially that too. There’s no broadcast, there’s no sports in there. It’s all entertainment product. It’s a limited selection, so we think there’s more to come, and in fact in every MVPD cable renewal or extension deal we’ve done in the last year and a half, it includes provision that we’ll be added to any OTT or skinny bundles that they have, so it’s more product to come.”
Delivering an evolution
“From the beginning, back to November of ’16, my focus has, was and continues to be running this company, moving it forward, delivering a turnaround, delivering an evolution. And on the turnaround we’ve got proof points on U.S. distribution, where, by the way, we have sequentially improved our distribution revenue every quarter this fiscal year. We’ll have growth in the fourth quarter, the quarter we’re in right now, and we’ll have growth in 2019. We’ve improved our audience shares. We’ve tremendously turned around Paramount.”
The financial picture improves across Viacom
“We’re focused on putting points on the board. We are. Coming out of the third quarter, I think we started to get some recognition on that. Coming out of our fourth quarter, when we deliver not only sequential improvement in domestic affiliate, but growth in domestic affiliate, I think we’ll get some respect for that. When we talk about the numbers that Paramount’s delivering, I think we’ll get some respect for that. And you don’t know what the catalyst to turn [the stock price is], but we have had a real change in sentiment.”
Viacom evolves into a multi-platform global entertainment company
“The fundamental thing we need to do is shift the narrative. People look at us, and they say, ‘yeah, yeah, yeah, you’re a domestic pay TV company,’ and the reality is, that’s wrong. We’re a multi-platform global entertainment company. And that’s why this evolution point, building these new revenue streams, whether it’s studio production, our Advanced Marketing Solutions business, our advanced ad business, which, the strategy is to use that to more than offset any decline on call it the traditional side, that business is growing over thirty percent. You’ll see that business grow, on a percentage basis, accelerate in ’19.”
Earlier in the morning, Bakish also appeared onstage at Communacopia. You can listen to his full question-and-answer session here.
The Kevin Costner-led drama, which aired its season finale last week, is now the most-watched series not only in Paramount Network’s brief history, but also in nearly 15-year run of predecessor network Spike TV. Yellowstone reached an average of 5.1 million viewers weekly throughout its nine-episode first season, garnering the largest audience for an ad-supported new cable series since FX’s The People Vs. O.J. Simpson in 2016 and earning a 1.47 rating among the coveted 18-49 demographic. Among ad-supported cable dramas, only The Walking Dead has attracted a larger audience in 2018.
On the digital front,the summer hit from the seven-month-old network mirrored Viacom’s larger success across digital platforms. Season 1 content generated more than 12 million streams across Paramount owned-and-operated platforms and received over 9 million transactions on video-on-demand — the highest consumption for any Paramount Network series in channel history.
The success proves the newcomer network made a smart decision by recruiting big-name talent such as Oscar-nominee Taylor Sheridan — who wrote and directed the series — to drive its premium scripted lineup.
“When we launched, we wanted to build two nights of scripted entertainment,” Paramount Network President Kevin Kay told The Hollywood Reporter. “Now we know Yellowstone can anchor one of them.”
Yellowstone follows the Oscar- and Emmy-winning Costner as John Dutton, owner of a prominent and enormous Western ranch that has been passed down through generations in the Dutton family while he tackles the obstacles of keeping up with his adult children and making sure his land remains safe.
The finale of Yellowstone brought in 5.4 million viewers (L+7) and ranked as the top ad-supported episode of scripted television since April. The series accounted for 9 of the 10 largest audiences on ad-supported cable this summer (excluding news and sports). Season 2 production is already in the works with a debut set for 2019. Filming will take place in Utah and Montana, with Costner returning in his lead role.
Nickelodeon’s canon runs deep: AAAHH!!! Real Monsters, All That, Are You Afraid of the Dark?, CatDog, Clarissa Explains It All, Doug, Kenan & Kel, Legends of the Hidden Temple, Rocko’s Modern Life, The Angry Beavers and The Wild Thornberrys.
Beginning today, these and many other Nick favorites – nearly 30 altogether – are available on NickSplat, an over-the-top destination served up a la carte or as part of the VRV platform. The channel, with its treasure chest of classic Nick shows, serves as both the latest evidence of Viacom’s deliberate move into the digital arena and an affirmation of its brands’ enormous reserves of intellectual property.
“Viacom’s content – including our deep library of genre-defining television – is highly in demand, and our audiences are always looking for new and innovative ways to enjoy our programming,” said Viacom Executive Vice President of Distribution and Business Development Partnerships Sam Cooper. “We’re committed to finding the best partners to bring our individual brands direct to the consumer, and this relationship with VRV is an exciting step forward in our strategy.”
The NickSplat launch over VRV builds on a series of recent moves to widen Viacom’s content footprint within the digital universe, both via the company’s own channels and over third-party platforms. In June, Nickelodeon announced that it would produce two seasons of Pinky Malinky for Netflix, while MTV would revive Real World, Daria, Aeon Flux and other classic shows for as-yet-to-be-announced platforms. Awesomeness, which Viacom recently acquired and folded under its Viacom Digital Studios umbrella, has a strong track record of third-party production, evidenced most recently by To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, which debuted earlier this month on Netflix.
This studio model complements a general ramping up of premium content production throughout the Viacom ecosystem, from the explosive growth of Viacom Digital Studios to the consolidation of its global network into Viacom International Studios to the zero-to-$400-million-in-projected-annual-revenues ascendance of Paramount Television.
VRV is the premiere launch partner for NickSplat, and Viacom will curate content for the channel throughout the partnership. The $9.99-per-month service joins a roster of 12 channels – including Crunchyroll, Funimation, Rooster Teeth, Shudder and more – along with exclusive series such as HarmonQuest, Killjoys, Thundercats and Gary and His Demons.
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.
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.
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.