Viacom is spending plenty of time playing up its past as it tries to figure out its future.
In the latest efforts by the media group to tap into nostalgia, Viacom is changing VH1 Classic from a network of concert performances and old music videos into a home for well-remembered MTV favorites including "Beavis & Butt-Head" and "Daria."
VH1 Classic will become MTV Classic on Aug. 1, the 35th anniversary of MTV's start. The revamped channel will focus on hits from the 1990s and early 2000s. It will also air music series like a "Total Request Live" retrospective called "The TRL Decade" and memorable episodes of "MTV Unplugged."
On Aug. 1 at 6 a.m., MTV Classic will air "MTV Hour One," showcasing the first hour of programming from 1981.
As it struggles with falling ratings, Viacom has been going into its vault and returning to its roots to drum up some excitement on other networks as well. While the entire cable space has had to grapple with ratings erosion, Viacom is especially vulnerable because networks like Nickelodeon and MTV attract the younger audiences that are most prone to watching content on non-traditional platforms where viewership is not completely measured.
MTV averaged 461,000 viewers in primetime in the second quarter, down 9% from the same period last year.
MTV itself is refocusing on its start in music, introducing several music-centered shows during its upfronts presentation to ad buyers this spring. They include "Wonderland," the network's first weekly live music performance series in nearly two decades.
MTV also took to Snapchat to revive "Cribs" as a short-form series, where artists and celebrities give tours of their homes, just like Mariah Carey, Richard Branson and Redman once did for MTV's cable viewers. It also revived "MTV News."
Sibling network Nickelodeon last fall began airing a nighttime block of hits from the 1980s and 1990s including "Rugrats," "Double Dare" and "Hey Dude." There are also "Hey Arnold" and "Legends of the Hidden Temple" TV movies in the works.
It's unclear how much of an impact, if any, the rebrand will have. VH1 Classic has paltry viewership, with just 32,000 people tuning in to the channel in primetime in the second quarter.