Viacom Finishes Upfront With Double-Digit CPM Gains as Potential CBS Merger Talks Loom

New acquisition Pluto TV helps drive advanced advertising demand

viacom ceo bob bakish and pluto tv ceo tom ryan
CEO Bob Bakish (l.) is already monetizing his recent purchase of Pluto TV, led by CEO Tom Ryan.
Patrick James Miller for Adweek

Its long-term future as a standalone company is up in the air, but Viacom has finished its upfront business, crossing the finish line with double-digit CPM (cost per thousand viewers reached) increases, according to a source close to negotiations.

The company secured its highest rate of change in CPMs in more than a decade. Volume was flat this year.

During last year’s upfront, the company secured CPM increases in the mid- to high single digits for its non-kids networks and double-digit growth among its Nickelodeon networks. It had been Viacom’s strongest upfront pricing increases in a decade.

Viacom wrapped its upfront negotiations as CBS is reportedly preparing an offer to re-merge with it, which would be the third time in the last three years that the companies have considered such a move.

Buyers were interested in Viacom’s newest upfront offering, Pluto TV, the free ad-supported streaming platform that it bought earlier this year for $340 million.

As part of the company’s advanced marketing solutions (AMS) portfolio, Pluto drove shifts to Viacom’s premium digital video inventory.

The company doubled its upfront sales year-over-year for data platform Vantage.

In April, Viacom CFO Wade Davis told Adweek that boosting Viacom’s AMS business was “at the core” of its Pluto acquisition, which will triple Viacom’s premium, full-episode addressable video supply next year.

The addition of Pluto strengthened ad sales chief Sean Moran’s “Viacom Everywhere” push this upfront, Moran told Adweek earlier this year.

“When you put together our linear offerings, our OTT offerings and Pluto, we’re able to reach over 50% of all 18-34s in the country,” said Moran, adding that Viacom’s reach extends to 80% when adding in its social capabilities via the Viacom Digital Studio and influencer marketing company WhoSay.

In the upfront, Moran also leveraged Viacom’s big purchases last year: WhoSay’s influential capabilities, experiential via VidCon—the world’s largest conference for YouTube and other online video producers—and branded programming through multichannel network AwesomenessTV.

Viacom held five separate lavish upfront events annually as recently as three years ago, but they have all been eliminated; this was the first upfront season that did not kick off with Nickelodeon’s usual event. Instead, the company has switched over to intimate dinners with agencies, during which the network presidents, CEO Bob Bakish and Moran woo buyers.

Most other networks and media companies have already completed their upfront business, including The CW, CBS, WarnerMedia, Fox and NBCUniversal.

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