Viacom’s Upfront Pitch: To Reach Young Adults, You Have to Go Through Us

Newly acquired streaming service Pluto TV gives company a 18-34 demo boost

MTV is reviving its reality series The Hills this summer with The Hills: New Beginnings. Getty Images
Headshot of Jason Lynch

As Viacom’s annual upfront Presidents Dinners with agencies begin this week, the format may be the same, but several of the chiefs’ faces will be new—CEO Bob Bakish made several exec changes since last year—as is this year’s message to marketers: Thanks to a key acquisition last month, the company can help them reach half of all adults in the 18-34 demo.

This is the third year that Viacom is forgoing big upfront events in favor of intimate dinners with agencies, during which the network presidents, Bakish and head of ad solutions Sean Moran will all woo buyers. Viacom held five separate lavish upfront events annually as recently as three years ago, but they have all been eliminated; this was the first upfront season that did not kick off with Nickelodeon’s usual event.

The lineup at this year’s six Viacom Presidents Dinners will look much different than a year ago, after Bakish made changes at Nickelodeon (Brian Robbins, who came on in October following the June exit of longtime Nickelodeon Group president Cyma Zarghami), Paramount Network and TV Land (Comedy Central chief Kent Alterman took over for Kevin Kay as part of a restructuring last October), CMT (MTV, VH1 and Logo president Chris McCarthy took over for Kay) and BET Networks (CEO Debra Lee left in May; president Scott Mills now oversees it).

“The past year was one of transformation for us,” said Moran. And now that the dust has settled on all those exec changes, Moran will be spotlighting not only Viacom’s linear networks but the company’s big acquisitions over the past year, which have bolstered its brand partnership opportunities and expanded its reach in the coveted 18-34 demo.

“Viacom has the broadest, TV-quality reach with young audiences,” said Moran.

This year, Moran will be going into the upfront with Pluto TV, the free, ad-supported streaming service that Viacom acquired last month, which will be the cornerstone of the company’s streaming strategy. “We see OTT as the most transformative thing to happen to our industry right now,” said Moran, “and that’s why Pluto TV is such an exciting thing for all of us.”

Moran’s upfront pitch for Pluto TV: “No. 1: it’s got the brand safety with premium content that they’re looking for, in a TV environment. No. 2: it really strengthens and deepens Viacom’s reach with this really difficult-to-reach 18-34 audience, which makes up half of all Pluto’s 12 million monthly average users. It also brings billions of high-quality video addressable impressions.”

In fact, Viacom’s premium, full episode addressable video supply will triple next year with the addition of Pluto. (Buyers can buy Pluto TV inventory through Moran’s team, as part of a cross-platform buy, or with Pluto’s existing sales team, led by CRO Rich Calacci).

That will strengthen Moran’s “Viacom Everywhere” push this upfront: “When you put together our linear offerings, our OTT offerings and Pluto, we’re able to reach over 50 percent of all 18-34s in the country,” said Moran, adding that Viacom’s reach extends to 80 percent when adding in its social capabilities via the Viacom Digital Studio and influencer marketing company WhoSay.

Moran will continue to leverage Viacom’s big purchases last year: WhoSay’s influential capabilities, experiential via VidCon (the world’s largest conference for YouTube and other online video content producers) and branded programming through multichannel network AwesomenessTV.

“Viacom is now at a position where we can really be that one-stop shopping for reaching that younger consumer,” said Moran. “Because no matter what, you’ve got to be in touch with the younger consumer.”

That reach has allowed Viacom to increase its advertiser base over the past year. Late last year, it worked with Spotify for the first time on a digital campaign in which influencers RuPaul and Riverdale’s Lili Reinhart shared their favorite artists of the year.

As its reach has expanded, Viacom Velocity, its branded content studio, and Wildness, Awesomeness’ in-house creative shop, are helping marketers build creative that is “the right format in the right environment,” said Moran.

Among the upfront-related announcements and highlights from Viacom’s networks that will be shared at the Presidents Dinners:

  • MTV has now had six consecutive quarters of year-over-year primetime growth in adults 18-34, which is the longest streak in network history. The network is reviving its reality show The Hills, which ended a decade ago, with The Hills: New Beginnings, expected this summer. Teen Mom: Young Moms Club will follow moms that are part of a group of friends living in the same city. The network will celebrate New Year’s Eve with the SnowGlobe music, sports and art festival for New Year’s Eve in South Lake Tahoe, Calif.
  • Paramount Network, which aired last year’s top-rated new cable series, the Kevin Costner Western Yellowstone, will be welcoming that back for Season 2. Next year, it will debut Younger creator Darren Star’s dramedy Emily in Paris, about a midwestern twenty-something who moves to Paris for a social media job.
  • Comedy Central is taking another 11:30 p.m. swing with a new David Spade late-night show, coming later his year. Jordan Klepper, the last person to try his hand at 11:30 with The Opposition, returns in the network’s first docuseries, Klepper. The network will also be airing a new series starring Crazy Rich Asians and Ocean’s Eight breakout Awkwafina as a twenty-something living in Queens with her father and grandmother, as well as a revival of puppet prank show Crank Yankers, designed for a digitally-driven audience.
  • VH1, which has seen three years of primetime ratings growth, is home to nine of cable’s top 20 unscripted series; Love & Hip Hop was 2018’s No. 1 unscripted cable franchise among adults 18-49 and women 18-49. One of its biggest hits, Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party, will return in the third quarter.
  • BET looks to add to its top-rated cable awards shows—BET Awards, Soul Train Awards and Hip Hop Awards—with a BET 40th Anniversary Special, airing in January.
  • CMT will air Nashville Squares, a country twist on the classic Hollywood Squares game show.

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV/Media Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.