Viacom Looks to Mimic Disney in Entertainment Branding

At UBS Media Conference: CEO Philippe Dauman

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NEW YORK ( -- What will Viacom look like under CEO Philippe Dauman? A lot like the Walt Disney Co. Mr. Dauman seemed to take a page from his chief competitor as he spoke about several of his key growth strategies for the MTV Networks cable brands, especially when it comes to filmed entertainment.
Philippe Dauman
Philippe Dauman

"I view our business as being a brand entertainment business. We have released, over time, a series of Nickelodeon and MTV Films pictures, and it takes some time to get there. We have to have a competitive edge, much like Disney's done, by branding our own movies," he said.

Mr. Dauman said talks are already under way to release BET- and Comedy Central-branded films in the future, while 2008 brings with it two more MTV-branded films in the first quarter: Nickelodeon's "The Spiderwick Chronicles" and MTV's "How She Move."

Dreamworks deal
Paramount's relationship with DreamWorks -- which Mr. Dauman hinted might be severed during his appearance at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference in September -- seems to be going strong, at least from the animation side. DreamWorks Animation has a deal with Viacom to release two movies a year through 2013, with plans to expand that relationship through the development of an original series for Nickelodeon this year.

Another move Mr. Dauman said he wants to rip out of "the Disney playbook" is to extend the Nickelodeon brand into family travel entertainment. Earlier this year, the company inked a deal with Marriott Hotels for the first Nick Hotel in Orlando. Next, he would like to take the brand into cruise lines. "It could be an area of great growth and domestically and internationally," he said.

But one marketplace-leading role Mr. Dauman can champion is the unique ad model he's steered the MTV Networks toward through branded integrations. While the company's Kids and Family networks (Nickelodeon, TV Land, Nick at Nite) have been virtually unaffected by Nielsen's new commercial ratings (which emphasize viewership of ad breaks rather than programs), MTV and VH1 have been forced to aggressively integrate their marketing partners into all aspects of their content to combat their poor commercial retention.

Network experiments
The networks have experimented wildly with different engagement plays this year, adding more and shorter commercial pods to keep viewers engaged, adding programming during pods and experimenting with commercial squeezes, or ad messages that run at the bottom of the screen during a show.

"We have the type of programming that lends itself to integrated marketing. So we have a Stephen Colbert integrating a product on his show," Mr. Dauman said. "We'll be working much more closely with our partners going forward and have already reorganized our sales teams to do this more effectively."

Viacom is also hardly short on digital entertainment, with more than 300 websites in its portfolio and recent acquisitions such as, Atom Entertainment and Harmonix. The latter has spawned two huge video-game hits with "Guitar Hero" and this year's "Rock Band," which Mr. Dauman expects to sell 1.3 million units by year's end.

One investor questioned Mr. Dauman's strategy of acquiring small and medium-size properties rather than going after a MySpace or YouTube. Mr. Daumann said the strategy he prefers is "organic growth," driving traffic through on-air content and vice versa. Virtual worlds, for example, have become a preferred way to link the two, with recent communities created for Nickelodeon's "iCarly" and "Avatar" as well as "The Hills" on MTV. Up next is social networking, with Chief Digital Officer Mika Salmi's Flux platform looked at as the next way to aggregate impressions and users across MTV's portfolio of websites and beyond.
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