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

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

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

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

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

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

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

Growth comes over the top  

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

Mobile is a global growth engine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Viacom Announces First Quarter 2018 Results, Accelerates Transformation Efforts

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Viacom released its financial results for the first quarter of fiscal 2018 this morning, underscoring the significant progress being made to transform its business amid rapid industry change.

Aggressive moves to expand next-generation platforms and solutions, initiatives to grow beyond TV and film, the launch of a premium content network, strengthened relationships with distribution partners, and the demonstrable success of its Flagship Six strategy all position Viacom for potential growth in the second half of 2018.

“In the quarter, Viacom aggressively drove progress on our strategic plan, delivering improvements in our business and positioning the company for the future,” said Viacom President and CEO Bob Bakish. “Viacom’s most-watched portfolio of domestic cable brands grew viewership share in the quarter, led by our powerful flagship networks, which now includes Paramount Network – the biggest and most ambitious network rebrand in our history. Internationally, we continue to deliver double-digit top-line and bottom-line Media Networks gains while launching innovative new partnerships in growth territories around the world.

“Viacom has also made considerable progress in its push to accelerate consumption and monetization on next-generation platforms, achieving substantial growth in worldwide digital advertising revenues, expanding distribution on fast-growing virtual MVPD and mobile services, and ramping up resources and talent at Viacom Digital Studios. Additionally, since the end of the quarter, we continued to expand our digital capabilities with the acquisition of influence marketer WHOSAY and the world’s premier online video event, VidCon. In addition, our strategy to further diversify our core properties off-screen through live events, hospitality and consumer products continues to progress, with the much anticipated Broadway premiere of the SpongeBob SquarePants musical in the quarter, along with new initiatives across our portfolio.

“We remain deeply committed to maintaining strong financial discipline and delivering returns for our shareholders. In the quarter, Viacom continued to improve its leverage profile and we are on track to achieve $100 million in new cost savings in the current fiscal year, and hundreds of millions more in 2019.”

Here’s a closer look at what Viacom is doing to advance its strategic plan and transform the company in the year ahead:

Flagship Six networks anchor Viacom’s spot atop the basic cable universe

Led by its Flagship Six of MTVBETComedy CentralNickelodeonNick Jr. and Paramount Network (which launched after the quarter ended, replacing Spike in the U.S.), Viacom continued to stand at the top of the basic cable universe, holding the largest share of viewers in all key demos:

And the portfolio continued to grow: MTV primetime ratings (+14 percent) and share (+25 percent) both surged, BET recorded a second consecutive quarter of double-digit year-over-year ratings growth (+16 percent), Nick hit its 10th consecutive quarter as the top network among kids, and Comedy Central documented its third straight quarter of increased year-over-year audience share.

Viacom’s other core brands – VH1, TV Land and CMT – recorded year-over-year quarterly ratings and share growth. For VH1, this marked its 10th consecutive quarter of ratings growth, making it the only entertainment net across both cable and broadcast that can make this claim.

Complementing these growing ratings are strengthened affiliate relationships with Suddenlink and Charter, which should help further boost viewership and the advertising revenue that goes along with it.

Paramount Network launches Viacom Media Networks into the premium content space

Paramount Network rumbled to life last month, propelling Viacom Media Networks into the premium content realm and capitalizing on the deep storytelling tradition of Viacom’s iconic Paramount brand. Strong ratings immediately followed, first for Lip Sync Battle: Live Michael Jackson Celebration and then for the premiere of Waco starring Taylor Kitsch. Several more high-profile shows land over the coming months, including a Heathers reboot, American Woman with Alicia Silverstone, and Yellowstone starring Kevin Costner.

Viacom had already been invested in the creation of premium television content, however, under the umbrella of Paramount Television, a production studio seated under Paramount Pictures that tripled revenues in 2017. The studio’s robust content pipeline includes Hulu’s Catch-22, EPIX’s The Contender, TNT’s The Alienist (cable’s number one new drama series), Amazon’s Jack Ryan, and new seasons of USA Network’s Shooter, EPIX’s Berlin Station, and Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why.

The turnaround of Paramount Pictures continues

Paramount Pictures Chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos has assembled a new leadership team dedicated to igniting growth. The July release of the next Mission: Impossible film will act as the springboard for a 2019 slate that will include eight films co-branded with Viacom’s media networks. Major production deals with Hasbro, Skydance, and The Fast and the Furious producer Neal Moritz should further bolster a lineup that already includes Bumblebee, Gemini Man, and sequels to Top Gun and World War Z.

Viacom’s push into next-generation platforms accelerates

Yesterday, Viacom announced the acquisition of VidCon, turbocharging a next-generation digital platform strategy that also includes Viacom Digital Studios and recently acquired influence marketer WHOSAY.

This digital pivot has already yielded results, with global video consumption on Viacom’s sites, mobile apps and connected devices surging 38 percent year-over-year during the quarter. As Viacom Digital Studios ramps up to scale and begins distributing unique content across the company’s massive social footprint, Viacom anticipates a doubling of video views and significantly increased watch time on YouTube and Facebook this year.

Viacom will continue to move toward the center of consumers’ digital lives, both internationally – where the company secured a major mobile distribution deal with Telefónica in Latin America– and domestically, where a significant direct-to-consumer experience could be announced later this year.

Viacom’s live events business is growing rapidly

VidCon, which draws more than 30,000 attendees to its flagship Anaheim event and is in the beginning stages of international expansion, adds a powerful arrow to Viacom’s live-events quiver. Every flagship brand will host at least one major live event in the U.S. this year, including Comedy Central’s ClusterFest, which drew 40,000 fans in its inaugural run last year; SpongeBob the Musical, which opened to soaring reviews on Broadway; and The BET Experience, which will continue to attract tens of thousands of fans around the BET Awards in June.

International ad, affiliate and general revenue surge

Viacom International Media Networks continues to crank out steady growth: a 13 percent overall revenue jump, a 17 surge in advertising revenue, and 13 percent growth in affiliate revenues.*

Strong growth in Europe and the integration of Argentinian broadcaster Telefe contributed to these impressive numbers. The launch of Paramount+ in the Nordics, the debut of a free-to-air Spike network in Italy, and a restructuring of our jointly owned Viacom18 property in India should all contribute to further gains.

*All international revenue numbers are adjusted for a five percent favorable impact from foreign exchange

To see what Viacom will debut in the months ahead, scroll through the timeline below, or click here to view the full-screen version.

Paramount Network Launches, Propelling Viacom Into Premium Content Space

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Paramount Network launches tonight with a special edition of smash hit Lip Sync Battle, propelling Viacom into the premium content universe and building on the century-long storytelling tradition of fellow Viacom property Paramount Pictures.

The launch marks an important business milestone for Viacom, fulfilling a key pillar of CEO Bob Bakish’s strategic plan and cracking open potential for new marketing and advertising partnerships behind a star-studded slate that blends the best of the retiring Spike network with high-quality scripted programming.

The network will rumble to life at 9 p.m. ET with Lip Sync Battle Live: A Michael Jackson Celebration, a showcase of the legendary musician’s hits starring Neil Patrick Harris, Taraji P. Henson, Hailee Steinfeld, Laverne Cox and others.

Paramount Network completes CEO Bob Bakish’s flagship six strategy

The Paramount Network launch culminates a monumental yearlong effort to reorient Viacom under CEO Bob Bakish, consolidating resources under the company’s most iconic brands. The focus around six flagships – Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., MTV, Comedy Central, BET and Paramount Network – is a strategy Bakish had successfully implemented in his decade-long run as head of Viacom International Media Networks.

The strategy has proven successful on the domestic front as well. Nickelodeon and Nick Jr. remain the top kids brands, MTV has ignited a primetime ratings and programming resurgence, Comedy Central completed 2017 with its best ratings week of the year, and BET just completed its 16th year as the top cable network for African-Americans. The last piece was the launch of Paramount Network.

“There’s no better way to better encapsulate Viacom’s strategy change under Bob Bakish than to look at the creation and launch of the Paramount Network,” notes TBI Vision.

Paramount Network launches Viacom into the premium content game, with big stars and great stories

Paramount Network’s premium scripted content will launch Jan. 22, when Waco, co-starring Michael Shannon and Taylor Kitsch, debuts. Yellowstone starring Kevin Costner, American Woman starring Alicia Silverstone and Mena Suvari, and a re-imagining of the 80s classic Heathers will follow later this year.

“The audience has an expectation that there are going to be big names, big stars, great storytelling, great characters, and I think that’s what we have to focus on,” Paramount Network President Kevin Kay told Variety.

Paramount Network opens up tremendous partnership opportunities

The combination of captivating content, huge talent and high production generates enormous interest not just from fans, but also from advertising, distribution and creative partners who want to do business with Viacom.

“All the groups together went out and presented to both the movie studios, to our agency clients, and then to our distributors as well,” recalled Kay when asked how partners have been processing the rebrand. “People understood why we are rebranding Spike as Paramount Network, they’re excited to work with us, and the biggest thing I think that came both on the distribution side and on the ad-sales side was that clients said, ‘we want to be your partners.’”

The best of Spike is coming along

When the tribute to the King of Pop ticks to life tonight, the long-running Spike network will cease to be in the United States, gifting to Paramount Network its top unscripted programs – Ink Master, Bar Rescue, and Lip Sync Battle – plus Bellator MMA.

This mix of legacy unscripted programming establishes the net’s impressive versatility and provides a stable complement to Paramount Network’s still-evolving scripted slate.

“We’ve got scripted dramas, non-scripted in a big premium way, we’ve got scripted comedies, we’ve got docuseries, and we’ve got Mixed Martial Arts,” Kay told Deadline. “If you look around at the broadcast networks, that’s not a bad model to me. On the broadcast networks, you’ve got drama nights, you’ve got comedy nights, you’ve got sports nights. You’ve got a lot of variety for different viewers across a very broad audience. I feel that’s where we want to be.”

Nobodies will also migrate to Paramount Network, from Viacom’s TV Land. There are more original concepts in development, including sketch comedy series Browntown in collaboration with leading Latino-focused digital media brand mitú.

Paramount Network builds on Paramount Picture’s century-long legacy

Paramount Network takes its name from the rich DNA of Viacom’s Paramount Pictures, the 105-year-old Hollywood icon whose deep catalogue houses some of the most memorable films ever made, including Titanic, Forrest Gump, and the Godfather films. While Paramount Network and Paramount Pictures will operate separately, their relationship will mirror that of other Viacom properties under Bakish, in which the brands collaborate with the movie studio to maximize the reach of intellectual property.

“There’s a real big need, and there’s a want, a desire, for us all to work together really closely, to both exploit [Paramount Pictures’] library and then to help promote the movies, and then to potentially create some great programs for Paramount Network,” Kay explained.

Paramount Pictures also owns the Paramount Television production studio, which tripled its revenue in 2017 through a steady stream of high-quality content, including the Netflix sensation 13 Reasons Why, Epix’s Berlin Station, and Shooter on USA.

“There is incredible demand for high-quality television content and the reality is, there are not that many places that you can get it,” Bakish said at the at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference in December, underscoring the importance of Paramount Television.

The Paramount name resonates globally – Viacom offers a network called Paramount Channel in select markets outside of the United States. According to Bakish, it is the largest ad-supported movie channel in the world.

“This Continues to Be an Extremely Undervalued Company” – Six Highlights from Bob Bakish’s UBS Global Media & Communications Q&A

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Viacom CEO Bob Bakish attends the Ribbon Cutting for the new Viacom Building on January 26, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Todd Williamson/Getty Images)

Viacom CEO Bob Bakish appeared onstage at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference yesterday in New York City, where he spoke to media and telecommunications analyst John C. Hodulik.

Bakish discussed the financial improvements surfaced in Viacom’s recent earnings report, the strength of Paramount’s film and television studios, flagship network highlights, and his optimism about the growth opportunities available through multi-platform distribution, live events, and other streams.

In his remarks, Bakish crystalized several key points about Viacom’s operations. Six of the most important are pulled out below. Click here to listen to the full conversation.

1) Viacom is a global cross-platform content engine

“And as we pivot and look to 2018, what we’re really focused on – and people think about Viacom and they say, ‘you’re a pay-TV company.’ And it’s true that we have a substantial business base in pay television. But what Viacom really is, it’s a global content engine across television, across feature film and increasingly across digital-native.”

2) Partnerships are key to growth

“The interesting thing is outside the U.S., in most markets, still today, Viacom is a relatively small player. And so, how do we get the benefits of being a bigger player? And the route to that was through partnership, whether that was partnering with our distributors, on the advertising side. We participated in a whole set of ad sales houses through that time, some of them we run, some of them other people run, some of them were joint ventures but that was all about getting the benefits of scale.”

3) Viacom’s flagship brands remain the priority

“Well, flagships [Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., MTV, Comedy Central, BET and the soon-to-launch Paramount Network] are certainly Viacom’s priority because again we think there’s significant opportunity particularly to grow share there on the network side, as well as broader awareness. As we begin to implement that strategy we certainly remixed our programming investment and moved it towards the flagships, point one. And point two is within the flagships, a brand like MTV, which I’m continuing to be tremendously excited about, there was a place where we put a new team in place, we put a new strategy in place, that strategy was about shifting the programming mix. MTV had gone to a place where it was very invested in scripted programming, which is quite frankly something you can get from a variety of places and it was not really a core association of the brand, so we’ve moved it to a more of an unscripted place, more of a live place.”

4) Viacom is the market leader in advanced advertising

“And by the way, on the advanced advertising space, Viacom is clearly the market leader. We partnered with Fox and Turner to set up OpenAP and we did that so the category can continue to scale, which is a very important thing for us. But we were the leader and we, as far as I know, are the only people doing these type of multi-faceted distribution deals and you’ll see the benefit of those start to come online as we get into 2018 too, and we’re able to unlock some more of this addressable inventory. So I think that is a very exciting road ahead. And again, sets the stage for a much more productive partnership with the MVPDs here in the U.S. and frankly around the world.”

5) 2017 was about stabilization, 2018 is about acceleration

“But as we accomplished really the stabilization of the company and I think that’s the best word, 2017 was about stabilization, 2018 is about acceleration particularly in these newer areas.”

6) Viacom is an undervalued cash machine

“Well, Viacom if you look at 2017, $1.5 billion to $1.7 billion in cash flow, durable cash flow, it’s about a 15 percent yield. So, this thing is a significant cash machine. You look at 2017 and we eliminated the big overhang on the business, quite frankly, which was the uncertainty around distribution. We have distribution deals with mid-single digit annual escalators locked in through well past 2020. So we have a secured distribution base and we have these incremental opportunities that are not only ideas on the next-generation platforms and solutions, on incremental revenues beyond the core, they’re not only ideas, they’re businesses we are already in, in 2017 that we are, therefore, know how to operate and can accelerate. So there is a tremendous opportunity ahead. This continues to be an extremely undervalued company.”


Bakish also appeared on CNBC last week. Watch his conversation with Julia Boorstin here.

Viacom Reports Fourth Quarter and Full-Year 2017 Growth as Strategic Plan Advances

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

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.

To listen to the earnings call or read the press release or other materials, visit Viacom Investor Relations.

Spike TV to Become Paramount Network in 2018 as Viacom Executes Core Business Strategy

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

The Paramount Network will launch in the first quarter of 2018, adding a premium entertainment channel to Viacom’s portfolio and executing a core component of the company’s strategic shift under new CEO Bob Bakish. The new net will carry the very best of Spike TV – which Paramount Network will replace – along with high-quality scripted series that will appeal to a broad and diverse audience.

“Our mission is to establish Paramount Network as a prime destination for premium storytelling,” said Kevin Kay, president of Paramount Network, TV Land and CMT. “From Alicia Silverstone as a trailblazing independent working mother in the 1970s to Michael Shannon as an FBI negotiator during the Branch Davidians dramatic standoff and siege, Paramount Network will be the home to compelling stories, unforgettable characters, and high quality production with a distinctive global appeal.”

We have three-quarters of a year until the new property drops onto the airwaves, and a lot more details will emerge between now and then, but here are three things we know right now about Paramount Network:

1) Paramount Network will be a destination for premium storytelling

The Paramount Network’s launch date announcement itemized an impressive roster of scripted series that will roll out in the channel’s first quarter.

Alicia Silverstone and Mena Suvari will star in American Woman, a 1970s drama about family and independence in a feminism-infused landscape. Heathers creates comedy anthology out of the 1988 film of the same name. Waco will transport us back to the standoff at the Branch Davidian compound with an entirely fresh perspective. And I Am Martin Luther King, Jr. is the latest in the acclaimed “I Am” documentary series from filmmaker Derik Murray.

While the already-announced slate is impressive, the possibilities for future franchises are enormous, particularly given the net’s relationship with Paramount Pictures. “Paramount Network is going to support and develop with Paramount,” Kay told The Hollywood Reporter (THR) in a wide-ranging interview. “Whether we make prequels or sequels to franchises that are Paramount movies or we develop our own stuff that becomes Paramount features, the same thing goes for Comedy Central and MTV — they’re in the movie business with Paramount.”

Kay hopes to establish a pipeline that supports eight premium scripted shows in any given year. “That’s a big number in this world we live in today and Viacom seems very willing to support that and help us build to that,” he said.

2) Your favorite Spike stuff isn’t going anywhere

Spike has become a destination for premium unscripted programming, with the full-throttle feel-good Lip Sync Battle joining longstanding network staples Bar Rescue and Ink Master, and all three will migrate to Paramount Network.

Spike, with its deep HD penetration and web of global outposts, was the ideal Viacom property to evolve into the Paramount Network. And, as Kay told THR, while Spike tended to still be viewed as a men’s channel, the iconic Paramount brand carried enormous gravity among fans.

“There is nothing negative in the consumer’s mind about the Paramount name,” Kay told THR. “Older people know The Godfather; some remember the Sherry Lansing years. Younger people know Transformers and Mission Impossible. Those are the franchises they identify with the Paramount name. I think it has a tremendous amount of value and sets a really high bar about premium in the consumer’s mind and it’s up to us not to screw that up.”

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