Viacom Wraps Upfront Negotiations Despite Its Board of Directors’ Power Struggle

Data, Snapchat interest helped drive 8% CPM increases

Viacom's board of directors is in disarray with founder Sumner Redstone moving to oust five of its members Thursday including Philippe Dauman in a move that points to his eventual dismissal as CEO. But that didn't stop the company from being the first to wrap up its upfront business this summer.

In its upfront negotiations, which it wrapped up Thursday, Viacom pushed for a 10 percent increase in volume and CPM (cost per thousand viewers reached) increases of around 8 percent, according to a person with knowledge of the deal. That's more than double the 3 percent to 4 percent increases Viacom received last year.

Though many of its cable networks' linear ratings are down, Viacom has seen growing interest in its Viacom Vantage data platform. In previous years, the company required clients to spend a certain dollar amount to have access to Vantage. This year, all clients had access to the platform. As a result, Viacom made around 40 deals with Vantage using a specialized KPI (not the usual Nielsen C3 or C7 ratings-based currencies), up from 11 Vantage deals last year.

There was also robust interest in Snapchat after the advertising deal Viacom made with the company in February (advertisers can only get access to MTV and Comedy Central's Discover Channels through Viacom). Snapchat, Velocity Content Network and V-Squared where the most popular parts of Viacom's Vantage suite.

Among Viacom's networks, interest was particularly strong in VH1 (which is a top 10 network among adults ages 18 to 34 and had its strongest quarter in six years), the revamped TV Land and Nickelodeon.

Many buyers had forecasted that the pace of upfront negotiations would be slow this year as broadcasters push for high CPMs, but Viacom was able to get ahead of the pack by not haggling over CPMs.

Today's upfront news was one of the only bright spots for the company, which is in the midst of one of the biggest media corporate struggles in memory. Yesterday, Sumner Redstone's National Amusements, Inc., which controls Viacom and CBS Corp., announced that it had removed five members of Viacom's board of directors—including Dauman, whose days as CEO seem to be numbered—and had elected five new independent directors.

Later that day, Frederic Salerno, who had been the lead independent director, filed a lawsuit in the Delaware Court of Chancery seeking an expedited determination that National Amusement's "attempted removal and replacement" of the board directors is invalid and alleging Shari Redstone is breaching her fiduciary duty as a board member by attempting to take control of Viacom.

But buyers said last month that they didn't expect the ugly battle to affect upfront negotiations as long as Jeff Lucas, head of marketing and partner solutions at Viacom, remained at the helm. His departure, however, would have thrown upfront dealings into disarray.

Then came a report that Lucas was headed to Snapchat. (Both Viacom and Snapchat said the story was inaccurate but stopped short of issuing a full denial, and many have speculated that any move wouldn't happen until later in the summer after Viacom's upfront negotiations was finished.)

Yet, neither Viacom's struggles nor the Lucas-Snapchat report had any impact on the company's upfront business, according to the person with knowledge of the deal.

Because its upfront wrapped so quickly, the company wasn't able to include Nashville, which CMT acquired last Friday after it was canceled by ABC, in any negotiations. Viacom will now look to make additional deals packaging Nashville with CMT's other scripted series, Million Dollar Quartet, which premieres in November. 

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