Viacom: Upfront Declines, MTV Rejiggers Focus

Viacom's Philippe Dauman says the company has been seeing a slowly improving TV advertising market in the third quarter.

"The tone is better out there," says Dauman, the company's president and CEO, at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia XVII Conference in New York. "We expect to see some further modest improvement." But he cautions that current advertising activity is at a "low visibility" level where there is much last-minute media buying.

In regard to the upfront, he said the average cost-per-thousand viewer [CPM] price declines -- across all its networks -- was at 5% versus a year ago.

"We believe we were the top in terms of performance of all cable groups," he says. "We were the first cable group to complete the upfront, I believe." He hopes Viacom will see higher price levels in the coming scatter market period.

Current active advertiser/categories at Viacom include deals from General Motors, technology companies -- including Microsoft and its Bing search engine -- and young-skewing entertainment brands. "One of our strongest categories is with movies," he says.



Also, MTV will make a major new push into programming in the coming weeks. MTV, which had been struggling, will launch a new series or event every few weeks. New shows include reality date show "Disaster Date" and new scripted comedy "Warren The Ape."

"We are giving a lot of attention to MTV this year," he says. "We continue to do well with the girls, but we are looking to get more of the boys."

Last year, Dauman notes, BET got a major push from Viacom with programming and personnel changes -- and as a result, grabbed its best ratings ever, rising 30% to 40% year-to-year in a number of demographic groups.

While the weak economy has put the company and the industry under the gun, Viacom maintains a leadership position in cable: "We have 20% of all cable viewership," he notes, when amassing all its network brands, Nickelodeon, MTV Network, BET and others.

In regard to its digital platforms, Dauman says: "We have had a lot of learning. We need to generate additional revenue sources," including revenue from subscription fees for programming, more revenue from casual gaming and merchandising.

He noted that Viacom's video game "The Beatles: Rock Band" has been a major success after its recent launch.

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