CMT Will Lean on Nashville to Continue the Network’s Ratings Growth

Features the series for the first time in Viacom's upfront

Nashville's midseason return will help launch CMT series Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders and I Love Kellie Pickler. Facebook: Nashville on CMT
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Last June, Viacom was wrapping its upfront negotiations just as CMT was rescuing the drama Nashville, which had been canceled a month earlier by ABC. So, as CMT heads into this year’s upfront market with a Nashville-fueled ratings bump, the country music network is eager to take full advantage of the series in its talks with buyers.

As part of Viacom’s upfront strategy this year, the company did away with most of its upfront events, including CMT’s showcase, and instead held intimate dinners with agencies. But Viacom is touting CMT’s ratings rebound in its upfront talks.

After a January brand refresh ahead of the Nashville premiere, “we have one of the clearest brands in all of media,” said Jayson Dinsmore, head of development for CMT.

“We’re one of the fastest growing networks and have some of the most profitable tent poles in all of television,” he said. “We do a lot of things across the board very well.”

When it picked up Nashville, Dinsmore said, “our mission was to convert all those extremely loyal fans from ABC, migrate them to CMT and allow them to discover everything else we have to offer.”

The strategy worked for the network, which saw total day ratings increases of 19 percent in one year among 18- to 49-year-olds and 25 percent among 18- to 49-year-old women.

Nashville has averaged 2.1 million viewers on CMT in live-plus-7 ratings, making it the most-watched show in CMT history, and helped the network successfully launch its new scripted series Sun Records.

That approach will continue this summer, when CMT deploys the second half of Nashville’s season—the midseason premiere airs June 1—ahead of the 2017 CMT Music Awards, which will air six days later and be hosted by Nashville star Charles Esten. On Aug. 3, Nashville will boost the new seasons of long-running shows Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team and I Love Kellie Pickler.

Now in Season 12, Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders “has never received a marketing campaign,” said Dinsmore. “We thought, let’s give it the biggest lead-in we possibly can. I anticipate this will be the highest rated season of Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders we’ve ever had.”

In April, CMT renewed Nashville for a sixth season, which will air in 2018. Even though its biggest star, Connie Britton, left the show in February, the network has faith that the show will continue to broaden CMT’s audience.

Thanks to Nashville and the brand refresh, CMT “is attracting a bigger, more diverse audience than we’ve ever had,” said Dinsmore. “Historically, we’ve appealed mostly to music fans. That’s still the case, but we’re attracting fans with many other interests as well.”

And that, in turn, has brought new brands to the network, including Apple, Coca-Cola, Taco Bell, Sony and American Express. “Madison Avenue has responded extremely positively to the new makeup of CMT,” said Dinsmore. The company partnered with Coca-Cola for a big integration in the first half of Nashville’s season, has another integration with Budweiser set for the second half of the season and plans to expand those opportunities in the upfront.

“Nashville has allowed us to open the aperture in the types of shows that we could make. We are using all of the research and insights to help us create a filter for us to develop shows that will pair nicely with Nashville,” Dinsmore said.

While CMT has branched out into scripted series with shows like Still the King (back for Season 2 on July 11) and Sun Records, “we’ve swung the pendulum back a bit and are focused on unscripted,” Dinsmore said.

Madison Avenue has responded extremely positively to the new makeup of CMT.
Jayson Dinsmore, head of development for CMT

A month after the Nashville premiere in January, CMT was thrown for a loop when Viacom chairman and CEO Bob Bakish unveiled his new strategy for Viacom, which centered around six “flagship” networks for the company—and CMT didn’t make the cut.

“Honestly, we weren’t really sure what it meant at first,” said Dinsmore. “But it became clear very quickly that what Bob was talking about is a distinction between domestic and global.”

As Bakish explained to Adweek in April, “when I crafted the ‘flagship six’ concept, I knew it would create some drama around brands that weren’t designated ‘flagship.’ That’s one of the reasons that a day after I talked about the strategy publicly, I was in Nashville at the headquarters of CMT talking to them.”

Bakish explained that Viacom’s flagship networks have global revenue potential and will also contribute to Paramount’s theatrical slate. Meanwhile, with non-flagship brands like CMT and VH1, said Bakish, “we have a significant domestic play, and I knew we would have to clarify that over time.”

During Bakish’s visit with other execs the day after his public announcement, “they spent the day with the entire staff, they walked us through their vision for Viacom, and they talked about the important role that brands like CMT will continue to play. The face time was immensely helping in getting everybody back in the right frame of mind to continue the success that we’ve seeded,” said Dinsmore.

And while Bakish indicated that some of the non-flagship networks would see resources diverted to the flagship networks, “our level of investment and support from Viacom is stronger than ever,” Dinsmore said.

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