'The Hills,' 'My Super Sweet 16' Headed to Viacom's Pluto TV in Licensing Agreement

Kristin Cavallari, Lauren Conrad, Audrina Patridge and Whitney Port attend MTV's 'The Hills Live- A Hollywood Ending' - Getty - EMBED
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Kristin Cavallari, Lauren Conrad, Audrina Patridge and Whitney Port attend 'The Hills Live: A Hollywood Ending' in 2010. 

Cable brands MTV, BET, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon will each have dedicated channels on the free, ad-supported streaming service.

Viacom plans to make dozens of the classic television shows that aired across its portfolio of cable networks available to watch online for free.

The legacy media giant is making good on its $340 million acquisition of ad-supported streaming service Pluto TV by seeding the platform with programming across flagship networks such as MTV, BET, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon. The 14 new channels will not only serve to boost the content offerings for Pluto’s 15 million users, but also give Viacom a new way to reach audiences that have abandoned cable subscriptions for streaming alternatives.

Among the shows that will make their way to Pluto TV as part of the arrangement are onetime MTV reality hits The Hills and My Super Sweet 16 and Nickelodeon animated classics Blue’s Clues and Dora the Explorer. In addition to Pluto TV channels for six of Viacom’s cable brands, there will also be themed offerings like channels devoted to CMT Westerns or Comedy Central stand-up specials. The channels will not feature current programming, which Viacom is preserving for pay TV subscribers, but library content will be programmed strategically. For example, a pop-up channel for The Hills will offer the opportunity for marathon viewing of the original series ahead of the June 24 premiere of revival The Hills: New Beginnings.

“This is a major step forward in our mission of entertaining the planet,” Pluto TV CEO Tom Ryan said in a statement. “Viacom has been entertaining audiences for decades with evergreen content that is bold, daring and inspires worldwide fandom. These channels are guaranteed to provide endless entertainment to both new and existing Pluto TV viewers.”

The January acquisition of Pluto TV signaled that Viacom, like its peers in the media and entertainment industries, is turning to streaming to capture audiences it has lost with the rise of cord cutting. Total viewing of Viacom’s TV networks was down 13 percent during the final three months of 2018, per Bernstein analyst Todd Juenger. CEO Bob Bakish has been attempting to turn around the business and has made digital investments a key piece of his strategy. Six-year-old Pluto TV has built a business off of licensing programming from film, television and digital studios that it offers via a TV-style streaming channel guide. The service is free but comes with advertising.

Viacom is expected to announce the new Pluto TV channels at an advertiser event later Monday that is part of the annual Digital Content NewFronts. The company held its first such pitch last year, when it unveiled its Viacom Digital Studios division, which in addition to Awesomeness also owns YouTube fan convention business VidCon.

The afternoon event is also expected to feature announcements about a slate of more than 20 Viacom digital originals, including scripted rom-com How to Survive: A Break-Up starring online influencer Eva Gutowski. The series will launch on the AwesomenessTV YouTube channel, which Viacom acquired through its purchase of youth media brand Awesomeness in July. Other planned projects include a late-night show from David Spade that will stream across Comedy Central’s social channels, Marc Lamont Hill-hosted talk show Black Coffee for BET’s social channels and a SpongeBob SquarePants-themed game show for Nickelodeon’s YouTube channel and Facebook page.

Awesomeness, which recently produced comedy Pen15 for Hulu, also has a number of film and TV projects in the works for third-party streaming platforms, including a follow-up to Netflix YA film To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, a new season of Hulu series Light as a Feather.

Viacom Digital Studios now claims that its content receives an average of 4 billion monthly views. Since its 2018 launch, watch time has grown by 119 percent to 6 billion minutes watched each month. Including Pluto TV, Viacom expects its digital video impressions to reach 5 billion per month by 2020.

“We’re excited to return to the NewFronts after a year of rapid digital acceleration and momentum across the leading social and online video platforms,” Viacom Digital Studios president Kelly Day said in a statement. “Our remarkable growth continues to be driven by an investment in premium original programming and experiences that engage our young, diverse audiences on the platforms they love most, presenting an unprecedented opportunity for our advertising partners to join the conversation.”