A year ago as it approached the upfront, Viacom wined and dined media buyers, telling them about the new strategy new management planned to execute at the struggling media company.
A year later, at a similar set of dinners, Viacom plans to tell buyers that the strategy is working.
And as it tries to remain a vital marketing partner in the shrinking world of linear cable television, Viacom will tout its growth as a creator of digital media, additional advanced advertising products and acquisitions that make it a bigger player in the worlds of influencer marketing, experiential marketing and shopper marketing.
“We’re excited about an even great[er] solutions approach because of the new assets and new division that we’ve created,” said Sean Moran, Viacom’s head of marketing and partner solutions. “We want ourselves to be seen as a full-solutions provider so people can connect their brands to their consumers via Viacom’s really strong brands, no matter where they are, no matter what they want, no matter when they want it.”
A decade ago, Viacom’s cable networks were must-buys for brands looking to reach young viewers and commanded premium prices for commercials. But as young viewers moved online, their viewership fell.
Viacom’s advertising sales have been going down for the last few years, but CEO Bob Bakish has assured Wall Street analysts that ad revenue will show growth in the fourth quarter of the year.
The weak ratings forced Viacom to find new ways to help marketers. With its Vantage product, Viacom was one of the first programmers to sell ads based not on traditional Nielsen ratings but on target audiences of people likely to buy a particular product.
“Data-driven targeting has definitely never been hotter Viacom,” said Moran.
Vantage’s volume has tripled two years in a row, with adoption at every major holding company and in every key advertising category.
Last year, Vantage launched a specialized offering to help movie studios. “We’re going to be talking about other offerings that Vantage is bringing to market,” he said.
Viacom, along with Turner and Fox last year formed Open AP, which aimed to standardize target consumer definitions, making audience buying easier. It also aims to create standardized post-campaign reports that calculate the marketer’s return on investment.
“Open AP has been really accepted very well throughout the industry. This has truly changed fundamentally how traditional television has been bought and we’ve had more than 750 registered accounts on open AP and we’ve got another 250 clients that are actively using it,” Moran said.
At this point, OpenAP has not attracted any new partners, but Moran hints that could change. “I think there’s going to be some other developments there that we’ll be talking to that we can’t mention now,” he said.
Viacom’s networks have been among the most cluttered on TV, but in the last year or two the company has been making moves to reduce commercials particularly in original programs in primetime. On its newly launched Paramount Network, the mini-series Waco had a reduced commercial load and commercial formats that increased the contextual connections between the brand and the programming.
Moran said Viacom is interested in more innovative ad formats, but said that in order for them to succeed it is important that effective ad formats be standardized across the industry to achieve scale.
“We’re building a pathway to do that,” he said.
Beyond commercials, Viacom is offering new ways to connect with consumers, particularly young consumer.
Viacom has ramped up its Viacom Digital Studios which is creating digital first content for four brands: MTV, Comedy Central, BET and Nickelodeon. Some of the new digital inventory will use the dynamic ad insertion capabilities of distributors such as Comcast, Charter, Sling and DirecTV.
In all, Viacom expects to add more than two billion impressions of new digital inventory for the 2019 broadcast year.
“We’re coming into the marketplace with solutions that really are at scale for digital that show incredible engagement, that have completion rates around the 97-98% rate, and are brand safe,” Moran said.
Viacom is also creating additional live, experiential events for its brands. This summer, Nickelodeon will have its first American Silmefest event in Chicago. It will join Comedy Central’s Clusterfest and the BET Experience.
MTV will be bringing back its Spring Break and in June it will be throwing a Yo! MTV Raps block party before relaunching the show as a daily digital/mobile first program.
MTV’s TRL franchise will be expanding with a Total Request AM one-hour weekday morning show beginning April 23 at 8 a.m. The afternoon TRL block will be also be returning April 23, joining Total Request Late Night, which launched in February on Monday and Tuesday nights. It will grow to three nights during the summer and to four nights by the end of the year.
This year Viacom acquired the influencer marketing company WhoSay, which will be part of its upfront offering to clients. The purchase of WhoSay also led to the creation of a shopper marketing unit stationed in Bentonville, Ark., headquarters of giant retailer Walmart. “We’re starting to bring that offering out to the [agency] holding companies and our clients, especially those in the CPG category,” Moran said.
Another acquisition was Vidcon, a meeting ground for people who create original content.
What links the new offerings is using creativity to audiences.
“It’s really manifested itself in how I’ve restructured our division, how we come to market in a way that enables our sellers to go deeper with the holding companies and with the clients because this connection of this passionate younger audience is unique in the marketplace,” Moran said.
All of these offering will be coming into an upfront market Moran describes as vibrant.
“So people have definitely been very attracted to our premium digital offerings. And also on the linear side, the scatter market’s been very vibrant. And that’s always a good sign leading into the upfront,” he said.
“Where we sit, this has truly become a multiplatform marketplace,” Moran added. “So now we’re going to continue to follow through on that promise. It’s been exciting for the marketing and partner solutions group that I lead to be having these talks early on with some of the holding companies about ways that solve their marketing needs beyond traditional advertising.”