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.”

Paramount Honors Director and Mentor to Stars, Boom Mic Inventor Dorothy Arzner

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Following a long tradition of naming buildings after pioneering women in film, Paramount Pictures has renamed its Dressing Room building after prolific director Dorothy Arzner.

The only working female director in the country in the 1930s, Arzner helmed films starring the glitterati of her day, including Joan Crawford, Katharine Hepburn, Maureen O’Hara, and Lionel Atwell; mentored the now legendary Francis Ford Coppola in his UCLA film school days; changed production sets forever with her invention of the indispensable boom microphone; and became the first woman director admitted into the Directors Guild of America.

1927: American film director Dorothy Arzner (1897 – 1979) and Alfred Gilks, her cinematographer, survey a scene as they stand by a camera on the set of her film, ‘Get Your Man’. Arzner is leaning on the camera and holding a combination megaphone and viewfinder. She was Hollywood’s only female director of the Thirties. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

“We’re incredibly proud to honor Dorothy Arzner, who is one of the early pillars of Paramount’s success and an enormous part of its legacy,” said Paramount Chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos. “As Paramount, and the industry as a whole, works to increase our efforts to build more diverse and inclusive workplaces, including our film sets, Dorothy serves as a beacon for that movement in filmmaking.”

Gianopulos joined Coppola at a naming ceremony for the Melrose Avenue building on Paramount’s Hollywood lot earlier this month, where the director remembered Arzner stuffing her hungry students with crackers and teaching them the nuances of getting the most out of actors on set.

Francis Ford Coppola and Jim Gianopulos attend the Building Dedication Ceremony in honor of Filmmaker Dorothy Arzner at Paramount Pictures Studios on March 1, 2018. (Photo: Alex J. Berliner/ABImages).

“You’ll make it, I know. I’ve been around’,” Arzner apparently told a forlorn and starving Coppola step-sitting on the UCLA campus.

She was right – Coppola went on to direct dozens of films, including the Oscar-winning The Godfather, one of the most iconic films in Paramount’s deep library.

Arzner’s own 19-picture filmography includes The Last of Mrs. Cheyney, The Bride Wore Red, and The Wild Party (on the set of which she cobbled together that first boom mic). She joins actresses Lucille Ball, Clara Bow, Marlene Dietrich, Edith Head, Mary Pickford, Gloria Swanson, Mae West; costume designer Carole Lombard; and former Paramount Pictures CEO Sherry Lansing as Hollywood legends whose names grace Paramount buildings.

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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.

Remembering Brad Grey

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

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)

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)

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.”

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