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Viacom CEO: MTV Is 'Not Broken'

Philippe Dauman
Dorothy Hong

"We are changing the way we do business" amid changing viewing habits, says Philippe Dauman, predicting that the company will return to ad revenue growth this fiscal year.

Viacom's leadership on Thursday reiterated its confidence that the entertainment conglomerate can improve ratings and advertising revenue momentum near-term despite recent challenges at MTV and Nickelodeon. And the company emphasized that it won't let changing TV viewing habits affect its business without changing its strategies.

CEO Philippe Dauman said on the company's quarterly earnings conference call that ad revenue will return to growth some time during the fiscal year.

And faced with the question whether MTV is broken, Dauman said: "It is not broken. It is highly successful. ... MTV is very healthy indeed." 

He pointed to this Monday's 11 p.m. premiere of Catfish, which was the channel's highest-rated launch in its 31-year history.

Dauman argued that within a big company it was unavoidable that some networks will face ratings challenges, while others are on the rise. But he also said that the overall TV industry, which has seen a slower ratings start to the fall broadcast TV season, is facing challenges.

"The entire broadcasting and cable industry is at an inflection point," Dauman said, citing increased time-shifted viewing and a lack of established measurement tools for online viewership.  Dauman pointed to Comedy Central's Tosh.0 as an example of the changed viewing patterns, saying it nearly doubles its viewership when including three days of DVR viewing.

Overall, though, Viacom is "confident it can grow ratings" in its just-started fiscal year with original-content investments and the help of social media and bring in "more robust ad revenue as the year progresses," Dauman said. "We are not waiting for business to change. We are changing the way we do business."

After lauding a rejigged MTV leadership team and highlighting the continued success of hit shows, he said Nickelodeon ratings trends have started to stabilize and vowed more original content on the network this fiscal year.

Viacom executive chairman Sumner Redstone started off the call by again showering Dauman with praise and arguing that "Viacom has always been in the reinvention business" amid the changing tastes of its young audiences. Redstone said Dauman has managed the company in a "truly successfully fantastic manner," and after highlighting that he often has called Dauman a genius, Redstone added that he was "my most trusted adviser who understands my vision and has the … ability to see it through."

Wall Street observers said they felt the positive adjectives were in line with previous calls, but some said it seemed that Redstone spent a little more time on praising Dauman.

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com

Twitter: @georgszalai