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Viacom: “We’re Not What You'd Call a Traditional Broadcaster”

Kirsty Styles

Philip OFerrall CropGiven its prime place in the homes of 700m paying subscribers worldwide, Viacom, the US media conglomerate comprising the likes of Paramount, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central, has had to respond quickly to shifting consumer demand.

And much like any self-respecting TV exec in 2013, Philip O'Ferrall, senior VP at Viacom, says mobile and social, and where those two beasts meet in the living room, have been front of mind during a busy year. “The heartlands of our audience – kids and families and youth and music – are definitely doing mobile so we have to be there and there in a big way,” O’Ferrall told Mobile Marketing. "And we also know social is now as much about mobile access as it is fixed – so the way we produce our social media content has also been very mobile-focussed too."

MTV is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the organisation's most social brand and one of the key events in the calendar is the European Music Awards, which in 2013 saw a live test of Twitter's Amplify second-screen marketing product. Viacom used the platform to promote near-real-time sponsored video highlights from the show to increase both viewing and voting across mobile and desktop. MTV saw its best ever results for votes, visitors, video views and social activity - which was up 624 per cent year-on-year - no doubt cementing social in the hearts and minds of Viacom's executives, as well as those from partner advertisers like Unilever and Pepsi.

MTV mobile tariff 

The company took another interesting mobile turn with its youth audience this year, announcing the launch of a branded MTV mobile tariff in Europe. Only under-30s can sign up but they can continue to pay the same for their contract after they’ve passed the dreaded milestone.

“Why would we launch something like this?” O’Ferrall asks. “MTV has a very specific ability to grow a youth audience.” But, he also explains, there’s also a ‘customer retention and activation' element that comes as part of the package, an app called UTT, that offers MTV mobile contract subscribers full access to its TV shows. “Viacom is principally a paid TV business and this all drives back to linear TV viewing," he said.

“Although it might be a bit of a surprise, mobile has also been a massive growth area in our kids and family group”, said O'Ferrall. The Nick app, which has recently launched in the US and UK, has been a testing ground for short form, shareable 'edutainment' content created specifically for mobile. The My Nick Jnr app, meanwhile, offers parents the ability to control the TV experience when they leave the house; they can press pause on their TV and then resume viewing on a mobile device. “This means the holy grail of our business – our content – is available on every device,” he said.


OTT Messenger Deals

Viacom owns some of the world's most recognisable brands and has already made hardware licensing deals for characters like Sponge Bob in the tablet device market. Not to be accused of resting on its laurels, Viacom is also set to launch a whole new area of business next year, via deals with instant message app partners to deliver branded emoticons. O'Ferrall explains that this will enable it to make huge headway in the Asian markets, where many OTT app providers have hundreds of millions of active users.

Viacom used to have an area of business dedicated to 'emerging markets' but O’Ferrall acknowledges that many of those groups have ‘now emerged’. The company had recent re-launches in Latin America – particularly Brazil – as well as Russia, where the company has seen ‘significant growth’. “Certainly mobile forms a part of that growth. Proliferation of devices is a big benefit to us," O’Ferrall said.

“But our real growth area from a marketing perspective is brand partnerships, where we can offer an immersive experience for brand partners on every device that goes well beyond display or pre-roll. We work with them hand in hand to create an experience that is great for their audience and ours."

No mobile-only ads

While consumer bevahiour is pushing some of these branded experiences onto mobile, O’Ferrall says Viacom won’t be placing too much importance on advertising here. “If the context is right, any advertising asset works but we wouldn’t do pure mobile or pure online campaigns. We combine a really great mobile experience with a really great TV creative to drive people there.”

He is keen to highlight that the paid-for TV business, Viacom's bread and butter, is still ‘extremely strong and growing’. But, while the company still makes a large share of its revenue from affiliate deals with the likes of Netflix and Sky, as well as its TV ad spots, Viacom’s CEO Philippe Dauman has not ruled out the launch of its own paid-for streaming service in 2014. “There has been a lot of growth in the non-linear world this year and that is clearly a focus, driving people between different devices and to TV,” O’Ferrall said.

"We have a pretty significant amount of tech staff in house covering our innovation labs and media tech services group, as well as mobile specialists and social media specialists. We're not what you would call a traditional broadcaster; we know media owners and publishers have to be at the forefront of technology."