Clockwise from top right: the author summoning the Viacommunity spirit, employees hard at work for vets, notes to vets in progress, final boxes ready to ship. All photos by Studio Brooke.
It occurs on the 11th day of the 11th month of every year: Veterans Day. Creativity and patriotism were flowing at Viacom during the lead up to the holiday this year, a time dedicated to honoring American military veterans.
This year, Viacom President and CEO Bob Bakish shared his appreciation to those who have risked their lives for our country by sending personal emails along with MyViacommunity gift cards to the more than 85 employee vets. The veterans can then use the gift cards to donate to a charity of their choice.
Viacommunity and Community Service in a Box (formerly known as Operation Goody Bag) also honored our nation’s bravest by inviting employees to decorate goody bags and send handwritten notes of encouragement to our servicemen and women currently on duty across the country and overseas.
Nearly 100 employee volunteers showed up, designing and assembling 500 Veterans Day-inspired goody bags. Viacommunity sent these gifts to the USO of Metropolitan New York.
“Veteran’s day is important to me because my grandfather was a veteran. He served in the Vietnam war. I have other cousins in my family who are also in the military, and these people give their lives to make us safe here at home. A lot of them travel and live in different places around the world. It must be so hard for military wives and husbands who have partners out there risking their lives, so this day really speaks to me.”
“What I love about Viacom is the people that work here. The empathy we are trying to create within the company is something that I feel should be established in all companies. I’ve always felt that we should be more sensitive to our surroundings. When we impact people positively, they gravitate towards us. I am here today to write notes to our Viacom Veterans because I want to thank them for their service. Even though I am not their family, I want to let them know that we are grateful for everything that they do.”
Riding broad ratings increases, significant improvement in domestic ad sales, and continued growth of its international business, Viacom reported fourth-quarter and full-year earnings this morning headlined by year-over-year gains in revenue and other key financial metrics.
The report serves as an affirmation that the strategy outlined by Viacom President and CEO Bob Bakish in his first earnings call in February is working to stabilize and revitalize the business, reversing previous declines in revenue, operating income and operating cash flow.
“In the fourth quarter and full year, we made strong progress against our plan to fundamentally stabilize and revitalize Viacom, with top line gains in both Media Networks and Filmed Entertainment segments driven by continued execution on our strategic priorities,” Bakish said. “We saw significant ratings increases across the portfolio, which drove sequential improvement in domestic advertising; our international business continues to expand, delivering double-digit revenue increases; and Paramount is demonstrating growth across multiple revenue streams as it rebuilds the theatrical slate and continues to grow its TV production business. Additionally, we have completed several multi-year renewals of major distribution contracts – including our recent agreement with Charter – which secure broad, long-term carriage of Viacom’s networks for subscribers and expand our relationships with distributors through new, forward-looking advanced advertising and content production partnerships. We realized these achievements and established a stable base while reducing debt, improving free cash flow and strengthening our balance sheet.
“Viacom is stronger and our momentum continues to build. To accelerate our transition to long-term, sustainable growth, we are ramping up the evolution of Viacom’s media business to better serve next generation platforms and solutions while continuing to diversify our business and strengthen our global portfolio of flagship brands. In the coming year, we will continue to focus on unleashing the full creativity and energy of Viacom to create greater value for our shareholders and audiences.”
Here’s a closer look at what Viacom achieved this quarter, and what lies ahead:
Improved financial performance
The company’s operational and organizational changes have begun yielding financial results. Viacom ended the quarter with increased revenue (+3%, $3.3 billion), adjusted operating income (+7%, $578 million), and adjusted earnings per share (+12%, $0.77). Revenue grew six percent for the full year, to $13.3 billion, while adjusted earnings per share grew two percent to $3.77.
As revenue increased, operating free cash flow also grew 26 percent, to $1.5 billion, while the company reduced gross debt by approximately $2 billion since February, a 15 percent reduction in the company’s debt load and an important step in retaining its investment-grade metrics. The company expects to further reduce its total debt load in 2018.
The most viewers in cable, and growing
Viacom continues its longstanding position as the most-watched cable family in the United States. Behind a varied collection of channels tucked alongside the flagship six of MTV, BET, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr. and Spike (soon to be Paramount Network), the company has earned a larger share of several coveted audiences than any competitor, including Millennials, African-Americans, and key child and adult demographics:
This position is likely to strengthen, as strong programming helped drive quarterly ratings up three percent across the domestic portfolio and six percent across the flagship brands, with especially sharp rises at several networks:
Viacom International Media Networks’ ratings also grew four percent, riding the strength of Paramount Channel, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, Telefe and Channel 5.
Strong partnerships lock in subscribers, stabilize ad sales
Viacom has put renewed focus on building stronger partnerships, with positive results in the distribution and ad sales worlds.
After signing an advanced advertising and content distribution agreement with Altice USA earlier this year, Viacom yesterday finalized a renewal of its deal with Charter Communications. Both of these deals transcend traditional carriage arrangements to include data, advertising and co-production components, underscoring Viacom’s focus on finding opportunity in a rapidly changing industry.
Viacom has now locked in agreements with nearly half its subscribers in the past year, with no major renewals looming until well into 2019.
Additionally, the company announced earlier this week that 11 of its networks would headline the new Philo streaming product, a low-cost entertainment package that will also include programming from A+E, AMC, Discovery and Scripps.
Strong partnerships – combined with the aforementioned ratings growth and industry-leading innovation – also helped stabilize ad sales after a decline in the same period last year. International ad revenues were especially strong, jumping 36 percent.
Top talent and intellectual property drives so much more ahead
Viacom’s fiscal 2018 is already well underway, and the company’s reinvention continues to accelerate behind a portfolio of diverse and iconic brands. On the immediate horizon, Viacom looks forward to further growth into next generation platforms with the launch of Viacom Digital Studios behind former Awesomeness TV Chief Digital Officer Kelly Day, an increase in live events led by SpongeBob on Broadway, the launch of Paramount Network in January, the upcoming content partnership with Tyler Perry – who is already scripting a film for BET – and so much more.
To see what Viacom will debut in the months ahead, scroll through the timeline below, or click here to view the full-screen version.
Under the banner of Viacom Digital Studios, Day will lead creative and editorial production for digital content across Viacom’s portfolio of global brands.
“The Viacom Digital Studios unit will further propel our efforts to become a meaningful player in digital-native content, while also elevating the social profile of our brands,” Viacom CEO Bob Bakish wrote in a note to employees shortly after the announcement. He also noted that the company would hire staff and strategically reorient certain segments of the company to support Day’s efforts.
Each year since 2015, Viacom Headquarters has opened its doors to a group of teenagers, letting them loose on the floors of our tech department and off-site broadcasting control rooms.
Sound hectic? Well, it’s part of Girls Who Code, a nationally-renowned nonprofit initiative which aims to increase the number of women in computer science. It teaches young girls computer programming skills, which they can use towards a future career in tech, or any number of jobs where this knowledge is essential.
Viacom’s Girls Who Code summer immersion program graduation ceremony at Viacom’s Times Square Headquarters inspired a new generation of teen techies.
Viacom provides expert mentors from various fields in the company to teach the girls what it takes to become a force in any industry they pursue. We host field trips to off-site locations such as The Daily Show production studio, where the teens can see how many ways tech can be applied in the media industry.
And yes, the result is a bustling summer of adventure and learning, with crowded elevators at company headquarters and wide-eyed teens gazing at the walls of our building as if it were a majestic castle. It’s also a valuable learning experience for current employees.
In many ways, our GWC program reminds me of how lucky I am to work at Viacom—a place where we’re encouraged to learn new skills, connect with colleagues in other departments, and walk through hallways covered with exquisite art.
At the end of August, the company held a graduation ceremony for these students at our Times Square Headquarters.
The 2017 graduating class of Viacom’s Girls Who Code summer immersion program.
Viacom President and CEO Bob Bakish spoke at the event, telling the audience how Viacom’s involvement with GWC personally resonated.
“Speaking as an engineering grad – but more importantly, as a dad of two teenage girls, it’s especially gratifying that Viacom is part of this incredibly important work to build a strong community of female leaders in computer science,” said Bakish.
“[Viacom] brands create great content that drives culture and conversation in more than 180 countries. Coding enables us to do what we do – from production to distribution, operations to advertising, broadcasting and beyond.
It is the glue that holds our digital infrastructure together…and it’s the foundation for the new and innovative experiences that allow our fans to connect even more closely with their favorite Viacom brands and content.”
Viacom President and CEO Bob Bakish speaks about the value of diversifying tech at Viacom’s Girls Who Code summer immersion program graduation ceremony at Viacom’s Times Square Headquarters.
Nickelodeon President Cyma Zarghami also spoke, telling the audience of graduates, employees and family members how crucial coding is for women. “There are so many places where females are underrepresented and its inspiring to know there are movements like Girls Who Code who are trying to change that,” said Zarghami.
The Nickelodeon executive followed up with an pertinent example of how the network broke gender tropes with an iconic 90s show, Clarissa Explains It All.
“It was an important show because it broke a lot of rules. We were told that boys wouldn’t watch shows about a girl. And that more girls would watch a show about a boy than about a girl,” said Zarghami. However, the show defied stereotypes: “It was a giant hit.”
There is so much more to be done, Zarghami stressed. “There aren’t enough women directors, or screenwriters, or producers. Or female leads in super-hero movies,” said Zarghami.
“But there is a movement now to change all of that, not just in TV and tech, but in every field. And you, and your generation, and organizations like Girls Who Code, are a big part of this change.”
Hear from the grads
“Thank you Viacom for this amazing opportunity and for helping to combat the stigma that girls can’t do math or STEM because WE CAN and WE WILL!” – Group Body Posi+-
“Viacom helped bring a real-life touch to coding.” – Charlotte, Girls Who Code 2017 Graduate
“It was so cool being here at Viacom. We went to see The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. We got to see the whole studio and all the people working to make the production come alive, which was cool especially since I’m interested in entertainment and the more creative aspect of production. It was interesting to hear from the staff the paths they took to get to their career, which weren’t necessarily conventional [production-oriented] paths. I grew up watching Nickelodeon. We got to see where the magic happens and how [shows] are made. It was great to see how we can take what we learned in seven weeks and use that to actually help people and create things on your own in the future.” I’ve never coded before, so I was a little nervous about that. However, the other students in the program were supportive, amazing and just so friendly, and it was amazing being with such a diverse group of girls. Everyone was different, they had different ideas, came from different backgrounds…it was just so cool. I definitely made some great friends here.” – Alaire, Girls Who Code 2017 Graduate
“We really enjoyed our guest speakers. One of the speakers gave us really good insight about being a woman in tech, life in general and how to maintain a balance between work and play.” – Maitri, Girls Who Code 2017 Graduate
“Going on what Maitri said, this speaker told us that you don’t always have to stick to one thing, you can always go around and you find different things and eventually you will find something that you are the perfect fit for.” – Brianna, Girls Who Code 2017 Graduate
In 2012, the Obama administration passed a new policy called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). DACA, sometimes called the “Dreamers” program, protects eligible young immigrants from being deported. The “Dreamers” are kids who emigrated to the U.S. with their parents. Many moved here as young children or infants, and some did not even know they were not Americans until later in life.
DACA opened the door for these kids to legally apply for their first job, to get their driver’s license, attend college and ultimately join the workforce as adults, contributing to the American economy.
Now, there is a movement in Washington to end this policy. If this happens, the lives of nearly 800,000 young Americans will be irrevocably altered. By March, they’ll be at risk of being forced to leave everything behind and move back to their native country—which many of these kids have no memory of.
On August 31, Viacom President and CEO Bob Bakish joined President Barack Obama, dozens of university presidents, and a multitude of CEOs from major American tech and media companies in signing an open letter to the government leaders expressing their concerns about the devastating effects changing the immigration policy would have on the Dreamers living productive and happy lives in America, as well as the severe consequences it would have for the economy.
For my 11th birthday, my parents bought me a 13-inch, white Panasonic TV/VCR set. I was most excited about the fact that it was white, and therefore girly, but also the fact that it gave me access to the exclusive club of sixth grade girls at my school who could invite their friends over to watch MTV.
My neighbor Lauren had been the first of my friends to enter this coterie when her older brother moved out and gave her his TV. I skip my bus stop and get off at her house, raid the fridge for Pepperoni lunch-ables, Dunkaroos and Cherry Coke, and head to her basement playroom, where we’d turn the TV straight to TRL and watch Carson Daly countdown the day’s 10 hottest music videos.
On a typical spring afternoon in 2002, we’d watch the same *NSYNC video for the fourth time that week, along with hits from Blink 182, Christina Aguilara, Britney Spears, Shakira, Michelle Branch, Brandy and Kylie Minogue. Sometimes we’d call in our request, but usually we’d just try to guess which one was coming next. Most of the time, we were right.
By the time my new TV allowed me to form my own girls club to watch TRL, Carson Daly had stepped down as host, and we were introduced to a downright dreamy group of regular “VJs” (video deejays, something I learned much later in life). My friends and I crushed hard on Damien Fahey, and wanted to look just like the trendy, chic Vanessa Minnillo.
Now, MTV is bringing back this iconic video countdown show, which ran for 10 years between 1998 and 2008. TRL’s revival is set for October 2, to be broadcast from a renovated version of its iconic Times Square studio.
TRL will be different than the one I remember— the video countdown model and audience request integration will stay, but the new show yanks the format into the post-2008 world of social and interactive media, with a mélange of linear, social and digital dimensions (expect some TRL Snapchat filters and daily updates on Instagram and Twitter).
A new generation of VJs will rotate through the studio, including, as of now, D.C. Young Fly, Erik Zachary, Amy Pham, Tamara Dhia and Lawrence Jackson. Learn more about the hosts here.
The revival of this flagship show is a logical move for the network as it shepherds in a new era of MTV that is remarkably similar to the one my friends and I would watch on that 13-inch TV in my bedroom.
With revivals of My Super Sweet 16 (a reality show I watched religiously as a teen, which I wrote about here) and Fear Factor (NBC’s gruesome game show, re-invented with a millennial twist), as well as a new show called Siesta Key (created by the same producers responsible for MTV’s original, laid back teen-paradise reality show, Laguna Beach), MTV seems ready for a millennial renaissance.
Watch the teaser for Siesta Key:
And why not? All of us who grew up watching these shows as kids are now in our 20s, able to buy our own TVs (albeit without VHS players attached), subscribe for VOD streaming services or cable packages and browse the internet without parental controls. Above all else, we’re nostalgic for the carefree shows of our childhood.
When I used to watch Kristin Cavallari flirt with Stephen Colletti back in middle school, I desperately wanted to be in her $300 Tory Burch kitten heels. Now, I’m in my mid-20s and have slightly different summer aspirations than spending it prancing around a beach with my high school crush, but that doesn’t mean I can’t relive the fun.
MTV President Chris McCarthy is largely responsible for this mining of the network’s history to inform its current programming. “MTV’s reinvention,” he told recently toldThe New York Times, “is coming by harnessing its heritage.”
As a business strategy, this has been remarkably successful. In June and July, ratings for MTV’s target demographic – millennials, aka 18 to 34-year-olds—soared. It was the first time the network experienced two consecutive months of ratings growth in four years.
As Viacom President and CEO Bob Bakish toldThe New York Times, “[McCarthy] reset the brand filter, cleaned out the pipeline and began building a new MTV that’s much more based on reality, unscripted and music content.”
Beginning in May 2019, the prolific writer, director, producer, actor and playwright behind seven television series, 16 feature films and 20 plays will turn his creative energies toward producing 90 episodes of original comedy and drama each year for BET and other Viacom networks. His movies may be coming to Viacom even sooner – Paramount Pictures has exclusive first look rights to Perry’s new feature film content starting immediately.
“Today’s announcement represents an important step forward as Viacom continues to make swift progress against our new strategic plan,” said Viacom President and CEO Bob Bakish, referring to the company’s February reorientation around our six flagship networks: MTV, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., BET, and Spike (soon to become Paramount Network).
“By prioritizing efforts to work with the best, most versatile talent in the entertainment industry, we are better positioned to deliver must-watch content across our brands and platforms. Tyler is a prolific creative force, and I’m excited that this collaboration will bring his signature humor and powerful storytelling to Viacom’s audiences while further cementing BET’s position as the leading home for bold, relevant African-American programming and scripted content.”
Perry, whose work has aired extensively on BET, cited Viacom’s vast reach and inroads with his target audience as motivation behind signing on with the company. “Viacom has a rich tradition of reaching my audience through their TV, film and digital platforms and I am excited to partner with them,” he said. “I am eager to have one home where I can leverage all of their assets to tell my stories to an even wider audience.”
Viacom CEO Bob Bakish is in Paris this week, attending the Viva Tech conference, where he provided more insight into the low-cost entertainment package that he has been promoting in recent weeks, saying in a conversation with CNBC that such a product could be on the market as soon as this calendar year.
With a price target somewhere between $10 and $20, the sports-free package would offer significant savings from both the traditional large bundle and the $40 over-the-internet options that are now proliferating.
Bakish points to Netflix’s tens of millions of U.S. subscribers and its $10 price point as indicative of the demand for lower-cost non-sports services. Viacom’s assets are, he says, “uniquely configured to serve this.”
“Ultimately, the question will be, how does the market segment, because we’re at a transition point in the market,” Bakish notes “…but by introducing this lower price point, we think with these cord nevers and millennials, this is where we start to get traction.”
While the exact look of the package remains unclear, one thing is certain: Viacom will continue to evolve to meet the consumer where they are.
Brad Grey, who led Viacom’s Paramount Pictures for a dozen years and left a rich legacy at the studio, passed away on Sunday evening following a battle with cancer. He was in his home in Holmby Hills, California with his family by his side. He was 59 years old.
“Brad Grey was an extraordinary talent with a passion and gift for storytelling that won’t be forgotten,” said Viacom President and CEO Bob Bakish. “He has left an incredible legacy at Paramount and across the entire entertainment industry, from the beloved hit franchises he developed for both film and television, to the countless individuals he mentored and supported throughout his career. All of us at Viacom and Paramount mourn his passing, and our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time.”
Grey’s commitment to delivering poignant, compelling stories to audiences around the world bolstered the 105-year-old studio’s deep library with films across many genres. Starting with the smash hit Transformers in 2007, Grey guided Paramount into the franchise era with the original Paranormal Activity and continuations of the classic Mission: Impossible and Star Trek series. The studio complemented these releases with a parade of must-see standalone films, including the cerebral Interstellar, the gripping World War Z, and the gonzo Wolf of Wall Street.
NEW YORK, NY – JULY 27: Alec Baldwin, Tom Cruise and Chairman and CEO of Paramount Pictures Brad Grey attend the New York premiere of “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation” at Times Square on July 27, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)
Aside from box office success – eight of Paramount’s 10 top-grossing films came over Grey’s tenure – this varied slate earned many accolades for the studio, including at least one Academy Awards Best Picture nominee in 11 of Grey’s 12 years. Most recently, Paramount earned a pair of Oscars in February: Viola Davis took Best Supporting Actress for her work in the widely hailed adaptation of August Wilson’s Fences, while the gorgeous Arrival earned the award for Sound Editing (both earned Best Picture nominations). At the 2008 Academy Awards, Paramount’s No Country for Old Men won four Oscars – Best Film, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay.
HOLLYWOOD, CA – FEBRUARY 22: Paramount Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Brad Grey (R) and Cassandra Grey attend the 87th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on February 22, 2015 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by George Pimentel/Getty Images)
“All of us at Paramount are deeply saddened by the news of Brad Grey’s passing,” said current Paramount Chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos. “He was at the helm of the studio for over a decade and was responsible for so many of the studio’s most beloved films. I was proud to call Brad a friend, and one I greatly admired. He will be missed by us all, and left his mark on our industry and in our hearts.”
In an enormous show of support for local communities around the world, more than 4,000 Viacom employees threw themselves into the 21st annual Viacommunity Day last Friday. It was themed as a day of unity, bringing employees from every part of the company together at more than 150 projects sites across the United States and more than a dozen other nations, a collective effort that underscored Viacom’s unwavering dedication to putting our resources, skills, energies and collective will toward improving our communities.
“Viacommunity has a long legacy with our company,” said Viacom President and CEO Bob Bakish, standing among a group of employees outside of a Boys & Girls Club in New Rochelle, 20 miles north of Times Square in the New York City suburbs. “I remember when I joined the company in 1997 in the early days of Viacommunity, and it’s always been a day, throughout different management teams, throughout different phases of the media business, where we would take a day and allow people to give back to their communities. This is all evidence that communities matter. That’s what Viacommunity is all about.”
Events began early in the morning, spreading west from our outposts in Asia and Australia and following the sun across Europe and Africa and then jumping the Atlantic. The Viacommunity spirit rippled from the five boroughs of New York City and across the suburbs, west to Tennessee and finally California, where Paramount locked in the Viacommunity Day Cup for the second consecutive year.
Below is just a small sampling of the energy, enthusiasm, and effort that our volunteers injected into their communities over the course of a single day.
A Viacom employee gets psyched for Viacommunity Day 2017 in front of 1515 Broadway.
CALIFORNIA – Paramount Repeats as Viacommunity Day Cup Champions
With the highest percentage of employees participating in Viacommunity Day out of any Viacom division, Paramount locked in the Viacommunity Day Cup for the second consecutive year. Employees had spent the past 12 months passing their prize around, Stanley Cup style, with different groups holding the trophy for a week at a time. Taking the cup again is a testament to how deeply entrenched the Viacommunity spirit is on the lot, where longstanding relationships with local schools and organizations fuse with individual efforts to create an atmosphere rich with giving.
The Fulfillment Fund
The commitment was evident on Paramount’s Hollywood lot on Friday morning, when a bus pulled in to pick up more than two dozen employee volunteers. It was already loaded with 25 students and four chaperones from Alexander Hamilton High School in west Los Angeles. They were headed six miles south, beneath the 10 freeway and to the campus of the University of Southern California (USC). On a separate bus, 25 Viacom employees were heading in the same direction from the company’s shiny new Hollywood building, stopping to pick up an additional 17 students from Helen Bernstein High School before rendezvousing at the university.
The Fulfillment Fund, an organization that focuses on orienting high-risk students toward college, was way ahead of both groups. They’d set up a unique tour: a campus-wide scavenger hunt for groups of students and volunteer mentors to navigate together. What’s the name of the campus bookstore? Which year was the arts building dedicated? Which years did USC football win the Rose Bowl? Four versions of the hunt helped to disperse the laughing, giddy students across the hot campus and avoid overcrowding at any one site.
Among the Viacom and Paramount volunteers were seven USC alumni and at least two graduates of Hamilton High School. Site captain Lori Nakama, a director of creative services for digital and television distribution in home media who was participating in her seventh Viacommunity Day, was among them.
“This is one of my favorite days of the year,” she said. “I love getting to work with people in the company that I don’t normally get to talk to. We’re so busy here that, a lot of times, I don’t leave my desk. So I don’t get to meet somebody who works in theatrical, or in finance, or in theatrical finance. So at Viacommunity Day, you not only are building a community within the community, but a community within the company.”