Pinky Malinky is an upbeat teenager who has a lot in common with his peers: he posts rabidly on social media, he hangs out nonstop with his two best pals, and he constantly must navigate the social pressures of school and life. But there’s one very important thing that will make Pinky unique among Nickelodeon characters (besides the fact that he’s a talking hotdog): when his show debuts later this year, fans will find him exclusively on Netflix.
But Pinky won’t likely be alone for long – across Viacom’s ecosystem, brands are digging into their vaults to identify intellectual property that could be an ideal fit for a digital or linear programmer outside of Viacom. MTV, under the banner of MTV Studios, is for the first time cracking open its rich, 35-year archive to offer its iconic, youth-centric content – Real World, Daria, Aeon Flux, the Emmy Award-winning Made, just to start – in new or reimagined form on non-Viacom platforms. In addition to strategically tapping the 200 titles in its massive library, MTV Studios will churn out new ones, including, to start, The Valley (working title), about a group of friends growing up in the U.S.-Mexico border town of Nogales, and MTV’s Straight Up Ghosted, in which victims of this mobile-age abandonment will confront their disappearing former intimates.
Similar efforts will follow at other Viacom networks.
This studio model – under which Viacom will license and produce new episodes of fully owned content for third parties – will present an enormous growth opportunity, as the company’s brands increasingly feed the insatiable global demand for premium content.
Viacom is uniquely positioned to do this. The company’s voluminous original content libraries house an enormous number of beloved properties that speak deeply to their fans. Its archives stretch back decades – and, in the case of Paramount Pictures, more than a century. Its properties resonate deeply with high-value audiences: kids (Nickelodeon), African-Americans (BET), youth (MTV), the LGBTQ community (Logo), and more. Viacom’s global footprint means that those audiences stretch across cultures and borders. As the first port-of-call for creatives pitching shows tailor-made for these audiences, Viacom’s brands are keenly aware of what is in the market. Its production expertise is second to none.
And even as these sorts of deals multiply, Viacom will retain all consumer products rights for all properties, fueling the company’s increasingly robust consumer products operation.
The possibilities for third-party licensing and production are practically limitless. Pinky Malinky – which will feature Nick branding at the show open and embodies Nickelodeon’s patented spirit of fun and surprising stories and characters – is just the first of up to a dozen properties that the brand is positioning for reboots or co-productions this year alone.
“Proliferating distribution platforms create incremental demand for VIAB’s [Viacom’s] content because high-quality branded content is one of the most valuable forms of differentiation for competing distribution platforms,” Needham declared in a bullish March analysis of the company’s stock. “VIAB’s film and television libraries represent differentiated, globally scalable, long-lived content.”
Take, for example, Jack Ryan, the Tom Clancy action hero who fought his way through five Paramount Pictures films, starting with 1990’s The Hunt for Red October. The quintuplet of movies grossed hundreds of millions of dollars and still carries strong brand recognition and a built-in fanbase. But while there is no obvious basecamp for Ryan within Viacom’s current brand archipelago, his bulletproof vest is a perfect fit for Amazon Video, which will debut the 10-part Jack Ryan series in August.
This branching out into third-party content production has been subtly underway for some time, both in the United States and abroad. Paramount Television, the production arm of Paramount Pictures that is producing Jack Ryan, has quietly built a $400 million-per-year business from scratch by producing premium content like Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why and USA Network’s Shooter.
In May, Viacom International Studios (VIS) united the extensive production capabilities of wholly Viacom-owned Argentinian broadcaster Telefe and majority-owned Brazilian comedy brand Porta dos Fundos with Viacom’s Miami-based production operations, creating a multi-lingual machine that will develop, produce and distribute original content around the world. A matrix of SVOD, pay TV and free-to-air distribution deals will place VIS-produced long-form series (Borges on Netflix in Latin America), cinematic adaptations (Telefe’s Animal on Fox Networks’ platforms in Latin America), telenovelas (Vikki RPM on Caracol Televisión in Colombia), and co-productions (Club 57 on Rainbow Group in Italy and Nickelodeon elsewhere) in diverse markets and maximize the potential of formerly regional or local properties.
These licensing deals will therefore sprinkle tastes of Nickelodeon and MTV and Telefe and other Viacom properties throughout the global content ecosystem, while segmenting the full brand experience for consumers who subscribe to a Viacom linear or digital distributor. Even so, this nascent third-party production is already acting as a powerful growth driver as Viacom diversifies outside of its core television business under President and CEO Bob Bakish.
“Building on the success of Paramount Television and Telefe’s quickly growing production business, we’re going to much more aggressively tap into the huge demand for content and unlock more of our IP and production and creative capabilities to drive incremental revenues from third-party platforms,” Bakish said on Viacom’s second-quarter 2018 earnings call in April. “This isn’t just an idea. … there is a lot of interest from SVOD partners in licensing library properties from MTV and Nickelodeon IP for brand-new interpretations. At the same time, we’re also developing new IP for the sector and have already closed deals for brand-new original Nick IP and animation with third parties and we see more in the pipeline.”