MTV Networks Come Back With Stronger Ad Sales Than Last Year

Dauman cites increased retail spend, better programming

Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman was upbeat on Wednesday's earnings call, and had reason to be: the network's fortunes on the ad sales front at MTV Networks, which has had a rough few quarters, were up 10 percent year-over-year, a respectable rise back into the black (ad revenue was down 6 percent in the same quarter last year). Advertising revenues came in at $4.86 billion for the quarter.

Asked to itemize the reasons for the recovery, Dauman told investors, "It's a combination of our having a really strong quarter with ratings across the board and a few categories such as retail really pulled up." Indeed, retail is a particularly strong category in this Q4 for a number of networks; new gaming hardware from Microsoft and Sony (both in the sweet spot for Viacom's youth-oriented network package) is bound to have driven at least some of the growth. "We're counting on the channel economy to continue to recover," Dauman said.

The bleeding also stopped at Nickelodeon, which dealt with a multi-year slide and is now recovering nicely. "We feel good about how our ratings will be over the year, particularly on a revenue-weighted basis across our networks, with the high volume of programming we're producing," Dauman said. "We have enough in the pipeline that we can really move stuff around."

That answers a charge frequently leveled at the networks group, namely that it hasn't had as much new material as it needs to boost ratings after cancellations (such as Jersey Shore, which took the wind out of MTV's sails briefly) and declines in viewership (such as SpongeBob SquarePants, now one of the oldest kids' franchises on TV). But anticipation of a hearty haul at Christmas coupled with new material on all of the company's networks (along with some not-entirely-unasked-for controversy at MTV) has helped boost ratings.

The call was abuzz with talk of arthouse and tentpole movies opening in the next quarter, including The Wolf of Wall Street and Oscar-buzzy Alexander Payne film Nebraska, but given the amount of capital at stake at Nickelodeon, the film the company may actually have the most riding on is this August's Michael Bay-produced bigscreen revival of Nick's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise.