Viacom Taking Tumblr To The Upfronts

What better way to channel TV dollars than to partner with a top network? Figuring as much, Tumblr has struck a major ad partnership with Viacom ahead of this year’s upfronts. Per the exclusive deal, Tumblr plans to host content from MTV, Comedy Central, and other Viacom properties, while the network will offer ad partners the option of extending their campaigns across Yahoo’s social network.  

“This collaboration is significant as our first foray into the world of TV network partnerships,” T.R. Newcomb, Head of Business Development at Tumblr, said on Thursday. “We're really excited that brands will be able to associate themselves with such great content on Tumblr.”   



The deal is a major coup for Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, whose reputation is riding on the success of substantial content and social media investments. 

Last year, Yahoo paid $1.1 billion for Tumblr. To recoup that investment, Mayer has been open about her plans to commercialize the once ad-averse platform.

Just this week, Mayer advocated for ads on Tumblr before a crowd at the 4As Conference. “It’s a great storytelling platform,” she said. Tumblr is a “community of creators … there is nothing as creative as advertising.” 

The company earlier this year said Yahoo Advertising would power new native ads on Tumblr and provide deeper targeting. Per the new pact, co-branded campaigns will combine Tumblr’s existing ad products with custom content developed exclusively by Viacom for the social network. 

The first fruits of the deal will appear as early as the “2014 MTV Movie Awards” in mid-April. Before, during and after the show, MTV plans to post images, videos, animated .gifs, and other interactive content on Tumblr, which will highlight “Movie Awards” categories, presenters, nominees and winners.

For TV networks, the power of social media to drive audiences has become clear. As such, Tumblr is familiar territory for Viacom, which has been experimenting with the platform since 2009. Viacom properties now boast about 40 blogs on Tumblr, which have a combined audience of roughly 3 million followers, by Newcomb’s estimation.

Social networks, in turn, are doing their best to align with networks and their deep-pocketed brand partners. Twitter continues to court TV dollars, while Facebook just expanded its video ad program, and added some very TV-like targeting tools.

Founded in 2007, Tumblr currently claims an audience of more than 300 million unique visitors per month.

During Yahoo’s fourth-quarter conference call earlier this year, Mayer said Tumblr’s user base had grown 30% since last March, with monthly users up 50%. Time spent on the site was also up 50% year-over-year.

While advertising is still new to Tumblr, TV networks, from HBO to Bravo, have long used the site to build communities around shows and promote second-screen activity.

For Viacom, the deal is an extension of its recently launched “Echo Social Media Network” -- a service offering through which the media giant is developing creative campaigns for clients, and engineering their extension across social media and measurable earned media. 

At the very least, the Tumblr tie-up can’t hurt Viacom in its negotiations with advertisers, experts said on Thursday. “This deal gives them a nice story going into [the] upfronts,” said Jon Elvekrog, cofounder and CEO of social marketing agency 140 Proof.

Increasingly core to its media strategy, Viacom continues to invest heavily in social media. And the work appears to be paying off. The “2013 MTV Movie Awards” generated more than three million mentions across social media from more than 1.1 million unique users during its initial airing, according to Trendrr.

Additional Viacom properties participating in the Tumblr deal include Nickelodeon, VH1, TV Land, Spike, and CMT.

Tumblr, meanwhile, is not Yahoo’s only social investment. The company has acquired a number of other startups -- from social data startup Vizify to diary app Wander -- to grab a share of social media ad dollars.

Last year, social media advertising spending was expected to reach $4.6 billion -- up 35% from $3.4 billion in 2012, according to a recent estimate from ZenithOptimedia.
This year, advertisers are expected to pump nearly $12 billion into social networks around the world, according to eMarketer. That’s 25% more than marketers spent on social last year, by the research firm’s measure.

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