Viacom’s Gambles Have Led to Major Gains

At Adweek’s Convergent TV Summit, Sean Moran said the company is embracing cord-cutting

Sean Moran talks at Adweek
Viacom's risks over the past two years have paid off for the company, per Sean Moran. Sean T. Smith for Adweek

Viacom is proving that it’s anything but stale. Sean Moran, who spearheads ad solutions for the broadcaster, said Viacom is just getting started. Moran spoke at Adweek’s Convergent TV Summit on Tuesday, walking through the company’s two-year journey in pivoting from a linear-based broadcaster to one that embraces cord-cutting—and all things addressable.

According to Moran, change is in Viacom’s DNA.

“We’ve always been serving this young, valuable, hard-to-reach audience,” he explained. “And they’re telling you what they want.”

Those voices, he noted, came to a head roughly two years ago, when Moran noticed audiences across the country cutting cords and canceling cable subscriptions at unprecedented rates. To top it all off, the young, diverse audience that loved Viacom was “digesting” the company’s intellectual property elsewhere, he said.

The key to keeping that younger demographic, as it turns out, was the company’s acquisition of the free-to-stream platform Pluto for $340 million this past March. Thanks to partnerships that see Pluto’s offerings baked into Samsung and Vizio’s own smart TV hardware, Viacom is still able to pride itself on being able to target more than 50% of the coveted 18-to-34-year-old age bracket nationwide—and 22% of all the television broadcasted in the country.

Half of Pluto’s audience are cord-cutters or cord-nevers, per Moran.

“Everyone’s looking how to cut through the clutter,” he said. “All the clients are looking for ways to make their dollars go further, cut through with new creative and translate these into results.”

Recent years have also seen the company extend some new offerings to advertisers as well, between the debut of the “Viacom Vantage” data platform in 2015 and alliances with multichannel video programming distributors, both of which give media buyers fine-grained insight into the kind of audience watching Viacom’s programming.

But the idea of swallowing this new image of a decades-old company as a data-friendly targeted platform didn’t come easily to everyone.

“It was tough at first,” Moran admitted, although he added that his company’s pedigree—and the promise of reaching that coveted younger audience—made it worth their while.

It appears that the gamble paid off. From Moran’s telling, Pluto boasted 12 million monthly average users, a number that’s already grown 50% in this calendar year to 18 million. Not only that, but this year’s third fiscal quarter brought a 6% year-over-year growth in ad earnings, he said.

Meanwhile, Viacom also brought on a litany of content partners, like CNN, NFL, BBC and Viacom’s own programming. In July, the company also rolled out 11 separate channels aimed at the Latin America market—with more planned as the company continues its push into international markets.

“Where it makes sense, we’re going to be there,” Moran said, pointing to the 180 countries where Viacom already has a footprint. “But we always want to make sure we have a global offering.”

@swodinsky Shoshana Wodinsky is Adweek's platforms reporter, where she covers the financial and societal impacts of major social networks. She was previously a tech reporter for The Verge and NBC News.