“We’ve Made a Lot of Progress at Viacom” – CEO Bob Bakish Touts Achievements at MoffettNathanson

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Growing viewership, building new management teams, finding efficiencies, delivering content on next-generation platforms. Viacom President and CEO Bob Bakish sat down with Michael B. Nathanson at last week’s MoffettNathanson Media & Communications Summit in New York City, where they discussed these and other ways that Viacom is strategically positioning itself to thrive in a rapidly evolving media landscape.

“I fundamentally believe we’ve made a lot of progress at Viacom in the last year or so,” Bakish said. “That starts with having a plan and laying it out for our teams, our employees, and quite frankly, the rest of the industry and the financial community. … For the last couple of quarters, we’ve seen consistent share growth, including in the last quarter. And in fact, we’re seeing improvement relative to last quarter and the current quarter we’re in. So that’s clear progress.”

Additional highlights from the conversation are below. Listen to the full exchange here.

Next-generation platforms and solutions are driving a huge potential growth market for Viacom

Viacom Digital Studios, announced late last year and launched in earnest at the recent Newfronts in New York, is just getting going, but has already stoked strong digital consumption, with video views up 110 percent year-over-year last month. This is just one part of a broad suite of digital initiatives – from vMVPD (virtual multichannel video programming distributor) distribution over Sling and DIRECTV NOW to deals with Telfonica (across Latin America), Telkomsel (Indonesia) and other mobile providers – that is positioning Viacom to evolve with its increasingly digital-first fanbase.

“So when we talk about next generation, we’re talking about vMVPDs. We’re talking about OTT (over the top). We’re talking about sort of AVOD (audio/visual on demand), in front of the wall, social, et cetera. And we have initiatives going in all of those spaces. And the reason we’re in all of those spaces is we believe that’s a very powerful complement to what we’re doing in the traditional space and is critical to driving growth.”

New management is driving ratings growth across the core television business

MTV is riding an unscripted boom to 10 straight months of ratings growth under network President Chris McCarthy, while ratings are up at BET behind a scripted programming push and at Comedy Central as Trevor Noah solidifies himself as a major voice in late-night.

“So, I feel good about our trajectory there, and in fact, again, when you met with advertisers and we did dinners with each of the agency holding companies over the last three weeks or so … what we typically heard … was, ‘wow, you guys made a lot of sort of promises and commitments when we saw you last year … And we were somewhat skeptical but it’s really incredible how far you’ve come and seeing these brands and we’re very excited about your upcoming slates,’ as are we, by the way,” Bakish said.

Paramount Pictures’ new management team is turning the studio around…

Under Chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos, the iconic movie studio has installed a new management team and reoriented its slate so that half of its films are co-branded with Viacom’s media networks. With A Quiet Place – the first film produced, marketed and distributed under the new team – rolling out to more than $300 million in worldwide box office receipts (so far), on a $20 million budget, the studio has plenty of momentum moving into the summer.

“And if you look at Paramount, we have a plan that management is totally bought into that is about, that addresses some of our historical problems and our historical problems were a slate construction that didn’t make sense, was not balanced, didn’t leverage the assets Viacom had and then frankly poor execution,” said Bakish “… look at the branded films, the first one in this kind of era is going to be a BET film shot by Tyler Perry [starring Tiffany Haddish] … That’s a film that we made at a very attractive price point, and it’s going to benefit from the BET brand, and that’s why Tyler came and left a perfectly good existence at Discovery and Lionsgate to unify his content output with Viacom … So we are going to rapidly take share, it’s going to be profitable share and we’re going to combine that with our television business and that’s going to take us back very quickly to a very nice business.”

…while the Paramount TV production studio evolves into a premium content force

With 19 network projects in the pipeline and hits such as Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why and TNT’s The Alienist stamping the studio’s premium content credentials, Paramount Television is expected to deliver $400 million in fiscal 2018 revenue.

“When suddenly Viacom split with CBS, the TV production went with CBS and therefore we had a kind of naked film-only studio, which is not a good place for a studio to be because very lumpy,” Bakish said. “Television tends to kind of flatten out the volatility year-to-year, as well as, of course add value. … Paramount is rapidly being appreciated as a place that makes hits in television too.”

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MTV and NYC Celebrate the VMA’s Return to Radio City Music Hall

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.”

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Viacom’s Creative Renaissance Ignites With “Jersey Shore Family Vacation” and “A Quiet Place”

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

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 Shore in 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.”

MTV Rides Longest Ratings Growth Streak in 18 Years as Fans Await Even More “Shore”

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

MTV’s ratings continue to grow at a torrid pace behind a programming resurgence that has revived beloved franchises and ignited new ones. As the net celebrates nine consecutive months of year-over-year primetime ratings growth – its longest streak in 18 years – MTV is keeping the programming fires stoked by announcing that the forthcoming Jersey Shore Family Vacation will reunite the original crew for not just a single season, but a second one as well.

The show’s April 5 debut follows a domestic reintroduction to the enormously popular Shore franchise in the form of hit Floribama Shore, which landed as MTV’s highest-rated series premiere in more than three years. Last night, the net also debuted a spin-off of sorts, Winter Break: Hunter Mountain, a mountain- and snow-bound reskin of the beachside Jersey barhoppers executive produced by Shore developer SallyAnn Salsano.

The pivot to unscripted programming behind MTV President Chris McCarthy has driven ratings up 20 percent year-over-year among adults 18-49, making MTV the fastest-growing channel among the top 40 cable networks.

Building upon the significant Shore archive, MTV will broadcast four Road to Vacation specials that cut the most unforgettable Jersey Shore footage with new cast interviews. The first throwback will debut March 15, with a new edition airing every Thursday leading up to the show’s premiere.

Shore Franchise Catches a Wave as Floribama Debuts to Big Ratings and Original Jersey Shore Cast Returns

Winter is just a few weeks away. In New York, this means hearing excessive amounts of holiday music while listening to weather reports with the ominous buzzword “polar vortex.”

Luckily, we can count on MTV to help us through the winter doldrums. The network announced Monday the return of beloved franchise Jersey Shore, which ended in 2012.

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Viacom, Home to MTV, BET, and MBAs

An NYU graduate student gazed at the dazzling digital wallpaper in The White Box event space at Viacom’s Times Square Headquarters, sipping a mimosa and munching a croissant. Other students milled about, intrigued by animation-splashed LED panels splashed with famous Viacom characters, such as Broad City’s Abbi and Ilana.

Networking before the panel discussion. Photo by Essence Dashtaray.

Viacom’s MBA Media Trek invited 150 grad students from some of the most prestigious business schools in the U.S. – such as Columbia, NYU and Harvard – to sit in on a panel featuring company executives and mingle with them afterward.

Viacom was one of several stops for these students on their tour of media hubs. Our talent acquisition department organized the event, curating an accomplished panel of speakers that included MTV President Chris McCarthy, Viacom Vantage Senior Vice President Gabe Bevilacqua, Paramount Digital Content Senior Vice President Anu Bhatia, and Viacom International COO Jose Tolosa.

The goal: to define Viacom’s eclectic, innovative culture, so the students could understand the workings of a fast-paced modern media company and determine whether it was a potential match for their ambitions.

What is Viacom?

Daisy Auger-Dominguez welcomed MBA grads to Viacom Headquarters. Photo by Photo by Essence Dashtaray.

Daisy Auger-Dominguez, our senior vice president of talent acquisition, welcomed students by sharing what makes her most proud to work at this company: “Viacom creates entertainment that drives culture and conversation.” She emphasized the massive breadth of this entertainment, with 4 billion subscribers in more than 180 countries.

“We are truly a global company,” said Auger-Dominguez. “This work extends to all areas of our business – from content production to advertising, distribution to data strategy and beyond.”

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MTV’s Reality Show 90’s House Will Be All That and a Bag of Chips

As millennials, we like to think we know the 90s. If playing Pokémon on a Gameboy Color, taking trips to Blockbuster to rent VHS tapes and listening to the Spice Girls are among your fondest childhood memories, chances are you grew up to call yourself a “90s kid.”

We’re nostalgic for this time—and not just because it was our childhood. As it turns out, the 90s was a fly time to be alive, no matter how old you were.

The New York Times columnist Kurt Andersen (who is not a millennial) posits that this is due to political, technological and socio-economical advances during the last ten years of the 20th century in an op-ed called “The Best Decade Ever? The 1990s, Obviously.”

Our awareness of current events as adults makes this 90s nostalgia even more acute. Now we know that the world back then truly was, by our standards, pretty chill.

If given the chance to go back in time and experience this glorious epoch of tattoo chokers and Legos with the knowledge we have as adults, how would we fare? If a millennial lives in the ultimate 90s fantasy world but can’t share the experience via Snapchat, did it even happen? Ugh, as if!

MTV’s new reality-competition show 90’s House lets us witness what our lives would be like in the 90s, without time travel.

Here’s the 411:

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MTV’s Reinvention Mines Heritage as TRL Returns

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.

Check out this TRL throwback:

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 told The 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 told The 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.”

What next?

As Kanye would say, “Listen to the kids, bro!”

And that’s exactly what MTV executives are doing by bringing back TRL.

“It’s the right route,” said McCarthy to the New York Times. “When you talk to artists and they say to you, unaware of what we’re doing, can you bring back TRL? We’d be crazy not to reinvent that.”

What to Expect at the 2017 VMAs: Katy Perry, Moon People, and the End of Gendered Categories

When MTV became one of the first American award shows to eliminate gender categories at the MTV Movie and TV Awards in May, people noticed.

“I give [MTV] credit for having the audacity to shake up the cultural DNA, to show us what a new kind of post-gender consciousness feels like,” said Variety columnist Owen Glieberman. “For kicking open a door by simply doing it.”

Now, MTV is doing it again.

In July, the network announced nominations for the VMAs – and gender-specific awards categories were conspicuously absent.

The categories formerly known as Best Female Video and Best Male Video have been consolidated into Artist of the Year. Nominees within this category include Ariana Grande, Ed Sheeran, and Kendrick Lamar, whose music video Humble received eight nominations – the highest total of all nominees this year.

Several days after this news broke, we learned that the iconic astronaut trophy has evolved alongside the categories. Meet the MTV Moon Person.

“Why should it be a man?” MTV President Chris McCarthy asked The New York Times. “It could be a man, it could be a woman, it could be transgender, it could be nonconformist.”

MTV also announced that Katy Perry would host the event. Her music video Chained to the Rhythm featuring Skip Marley received five nominations, tying her with fellow Artist of the Year nominee The Weeknd for the second highest number of nominations this year.

The VMAs will also carry over the Movie and TV Awards’ new category, Best Fight Against the System.

The Movie and TV Awards’ category celebrated “characters fighting back against systems that hold them down,” and the VMA version will honor music videos that do the same thing, such as The Hamilton Mixtape’s Immigrants (We Get the Job Done) and Alessia Cara’s Scars to Your Beautiful. Both videos generated positive buzz for their stance on important issues: immigration and body positivity, respectively.

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A Super Sweet Resurgence of Reality on MTV

In 2005, a show called My Super Sweet 16 premiered on MTV. I was 14, fixated yet mildly disturbed as I watched teenagers just a couple of years my senior scream at their parents for buying  the wrong type of Mercedes as a birthday present.

Hillary Duff sang the infections theme song (which is stuck in my head as I type this). The episodes typically involved 16-year-olds barking orders at their parents and outlining outlandish demands, such as a casual half million dollar budget. The birthday princess would change costumes more times than Rihanna at the VMAs.

We watched in lurid fascination as catfights unfolded between friends, celebrity guests, and parents. We witnessed harsh consequences for parents who bought their children an underwhelming amount of diamonds:

Yashika, aka the Veruca Salt of diamonds, makes herself clear. (Photo courtesy of MTV)

This was the golden age of early 2000s reality TV. As always, MTV defined what was in vogue—and at the time, it was delightfully depraved, unscripted programming.

Along with My Super Sweet 16, MTV produced some of the most addictively decadent shows of that era—Laguna Beach, Cribs, 8th & Ocean, The Osbournes, et al. Americans were collectively hooked.

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