Double-Digit Nickelodeon CPM Growth Powers Strong Upfront Gains for Viacom

MTV and Viacom Digital Studios also see buyer demand

Viacom upfront buyers flocked to shows like MTV's Jersey Shore Family Vacation. MTV
Headshot of Jason Lynch

After more than a month of relative silence, media companies are crossing the upfront finish line once again.

On the heels of Discovery, Inc., wrapping its negotiations, another major cable portfolio—Viacom—has also put the finishing touches on this year’s upfront market.

Heading into this year’s upfront with a new network (Paramount, formerly known as Spike) and several recent acquisitions like Whosay and VidCon, Viacom put questions about its future aside to secure upfront CPM (cost per thousand viewers reached) increases in the mid-to-high single digits for its non-kids networks and double-digit growth among its Nickelodeon networks.

It was Viacom’s strongest upfront pricing increases in a decade, according to a source close to negotiations.

Buyers responded to the company’s increased digital capabilities, with strong demand for Viacom Digital Studios, which made its NewFronts debut this year. The company quadrupled the upfront deals for its Viacom Vantage data platform.

There was also robust interest in MTV’s momentum, with shows like Jersey Shore Family Vacation.

Viacom’s upfront haul was bolstered by movie studios, which are increasing their spend across the company’s portfolio. Last year, in the first upfront under ad sales chief Sean Moran and CEO Robert Bakish, the company saw high single-digit increases and positive volume growth.

For the second straight year, Viacom skipped big upfront presentations, other than its Nickelodeon event, for intimate agency dinners, during which the network presidents, Moran and Bakish made their pitch to marketers.

Those Presidents Dinners focused on how far Viacom had come in the past year and not on parent company National Amusement’s efforts to merge Viacom and CBS (which has led to a legal battle between CBS and National Amusements).

Regardless of how things shake out with CBS, Moran told Adweek in April, “We’re excited about our own position, because we feel like we’re in a much stronger position this year than we were last year and how all the brands and the flagship six are doing, both from a ratings perspective and a multiplatform perspective.”

In addition to its networks, Viacom successfully pushed in the upfront for partnerships with influencer marketing company Whosay, which it bought in January, as well as VidCon, which it acquired in February.

During upfront negotiations, Viacom weathered the loss of two network chiefs, each of whom had been at the company for decades. BET CEO Debra Lee departed in late May and Nickelodeon Group president Cyma Zarghami exited shortly after. Zarghami’s departure, however, seemed to have no effect on upfront talks, given Nickelodeon’s big gains this year.

Several media companies finished their upfront talks in mid-June, but until the past day, no one else had crossed the upfront finish line since CBS did so a month ago.

Discovery has also just completed its upfront talks. However, several other companies, including NBCUniversal, Turner and ABC have yet to wrap their upfront negotiations.

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.