Viacom Sees a Softer Scatter Market in November, Recovers in December

Dauman says ratings are up again, especially at Nick

Viacom's Q4 earnings call included the first discussion of scatter cable prices so far, with the company reporting a 3 percent increase in the market "tempered somewhat by ratings at MTV in a softer marketplace in the month of November," according to Philippe Dauman, president and CEO of the company.

Dauman pointed instead to the international market, which is growing at a faster clip than domestic and helped to offset some of the losses. He also talked up the new integrated ad unit, Viacom Velocity, run by Dario Spina and Neils Schuurmans, which was announced last week. "This is an area where we've considerably increased our resources over the past several years," Dauman said of Viacom Velocity.

When pressed on the softer November ad revenue, Dauman said, "Remember, we were coming out of the continued budget discussions in Washington as we were coming out of October, and that just created a lot of uncertainty in the business community." Clients, he said, were "feeling uncertain" and trying to make sure their annual budgets came through.

There was good news on the viewership front, too: ratings at Nickelodeon seem largely to have rebounded—Nielsen ratings for adults 18-49 and women 18-49 both increased by 12 percent for 2013 and the network is back on top among kids 2-11 for December, a fact Dauman was quick to point out.

A few line items on the company's 10-Q go unexplained, notably the $14 million in severance payments itemized after the company's restructuring—$8 million for the television networks. The most public personnel announcement from the quarter would seem to be Viacom's restructure of its ad sales division, billed as a streamlining to allow synergy between networks.

Dauman also discussed the appearance of a "virtual MVPD" with whom Viacom appeared to be in negotiations. "I don't control what companies do," he told an analyst who asked about Sony's proposed streaming TV service, "but based on a variety of discussions that we're having, I do believe that there'll be at least one virtual MVPD player commencing operations in 2014." Does that mean we can expect Viacom content on connected devices that have Sony's new service? Not necessarily, but it doesn't necessarily not mean that, either.