Viacom is in the process of shifting its focus to align on its six flagship brands but for BET, a turnaround may be further off than for other networks.
Speaking today at the Gabelli Movie and Entertainment Conference, Viacom CFO Wade Davis said BET is going to need a “little bit more time” to recover in terms of ratings and align itself with Viacom’s multi-platform approach for its core brands.
“We’re looking at ways to be more focused on how we schedule that network,” said Davis, adding that BET is getting a comedy block where Viacom will borrow programming that appeals to BET’s core audience from other networks like VH1.
The strategy for BET could be similar to what Viacom did for MTV by moving its rights to air “Friends” over to the MTV and giving the struggling network a ratings boost while new programming like “Fear Factor” and “Promposal”—which have since launched—got ready for air.
Earlier this year, Viacom CEO Bob Bakish announced the programmer’s new strategy that set BET, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr. and Paramount Network (which will take the place of Spike when it’s relaunched early next year) as the core brands for Viacom.
“These six brands each have compelling, valuable and distinct brand propositions. They serve diverse, substantial audiences with largely-owned content, have global reach and distribution potential across linear, digital, film, and consumer products, events and experiences,” the company said in a statement. “Viacom's other brands—some of which hold strong positions in their categories and maintain diverse and loyal followings—will be realigned to reinforce the six flagship brands.”
In addition to detailing the process about building back up its core brands and aligning its many other networks within Viacom’s new strategy, Davis also talked about how Viacom is working to repair its somewhat fractured relationships with television distributors.
He said previous, Viacom talks with pay TV providers were “zero-sum, high-stakes negotiations” that would only take place at near the end of contracts.
“We fundamentally don’t think it’s the right approach to take with our largest, most important customers,” Davis said.
Davis said that, in an effort to remedy that, he and Bakish (often together) met with all of Viacom’s major distribution customers and asked how Viacom could help them overcome their strategic issues. Viacom is also working—oftentimes out of cycle—to update its agreements with distributors to give them the more modern rights deals that new virtual MVPDs are getting.
Davis specifically mentioned Altice. After Viacom networks had been dropped from Altice-owned Suddenlink more than two years ago, the channels are returning via a new agreement with the provider. Viacom announced in May that its new deal with Altice includes advanced advertising capabilities and rights for digital, virtual reality and 4K.