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MTV Boosts Viacom's Ad Sales 10%

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Viacom’s cable networks group has gone from wow to JWoww as domestic advertising sales rose 10 percent in the final three months of 2010.

Thanks in large part to the success of MTV’s mega-hit Jersey Shore, which accounted for the top five most watched non-NFL programs on ad-supported cable among viewers 18-34, Viacom enjoyed a significant lift in ad sales dollars and affiliate fees. Worldwide, advertising revenues at the media networks unit grew 7 percent versus the year-ago period, adding up to $1.39 billion. Affiliate fees were up 10 percent on the quarter to $814 million.

All told, the networks group posted a 6 percent improvement in total revenue, taking in $2.38 billion.

Viacom president and CEO Philippe Dauman said he anticipates “a particularly robust upfront,” adding that ad sales revenue should increase by double-digit percentages in the spring quarter. Scatter dollars continue to pour in as rates hover at around 30 percent over 2010-11 upfront pricing.

The highs Jersey Shore reached in the final three months of last year were just a prelude to the explosive growth the series has shown thus far in 2011. Per Nielsen, the Sept. 30 installment of the pop culture phenomenon drew 7.7 million viewers, of which 5.28 million were members of the 18-49 demo and 4.06 million were in the 18-34 camp. Last month, Snooki, DJ Pauly D and the rest of the GTL posse eclipsed that mark, averaging 8.48 million viewers over the course of five episodes.

The Jersey Shore deliveries don’t take into account time-shifted viewing; given that the show gets as much as a 40 percent lift courtesy of the DVR, it’s safe to assume that new episodes are being devoured by as many as 12 million total viewers.

On the whole, MTV put together another blockbuster quarter, growing its prime-time deliveries 38 percent to 997,000 viewers, while finishing the period up 39 percent among the 18-34 demo.

Other MTVN properties that closed out the year on a high note were Nickelodeon, which was tops in total day with an average draw of 2.25 million viewers; Comedy Central, which finished 10th among ad-supported cable nets in the 18-49 demo (615,000); and TV Land, which grew 42 percent to 910,000 viewers.

Viacom’s total revenue fell 5 percent to $3.83 billion as a decline in DVD sales ate into the company’s studio dollars.

Late Wednesday, Viacom announced it had broken the ice with Hulu, signing a deal that will allow programs like Comedy Central’s The Daily Show With Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report to stream on the service.

Earnings were released the morning after MTV held its early upfront presentation for media buyers and clients in New York. At the event, the network announced it would revive Mike Judge’s animated franchise Beavis & Butthead. Clips for a Gen Y Teen Wolf drama series and the comedy This Is Awkward drew the loudest applause, although perhaps nothing could compare to the reception that greeted the cast of Jersey Shore.

Despite myopic press coverage of MTV’s new drama series Skins––the schoolmarmish coverage about the show’s fleeing sponsor base rather conveniently sidesteps the fact that advertisers are merely reallocating their buys to other time slots––that cast was also warmly received by the Hammerstein Ballroom audience Wednesday evening.

Shares of Viacom dipped 1.37 percent, to $49.82, in early afternoon trading.

This week marked the start of earnings season for the major media players. On Tuesday, Feb. 8, Walt Disney Co. will report on its quarterly performance while Scripps Networks Interactive goes to bat on Thursday. Discovery Communications will break down the Q4 numbers for its investors on Friday at 7 a.m. EST.