Viacom CEO Touts Recent Nickelodeon, MTV Ratings Gains

Dorothy Hong

Philippe Dauman says new hits "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" and "Catfish" are helping U.S. ratings, but ad markets in Southern Europe remain "very difficult."

NEW YORK - Viacom has seen ratings at key network brands return to growth in recent weeks, president and CEO Philippe Dauman emphasized at a big year-end investor conference here Monday.

Speaking at the 40th annual Global Media and Communications Conference, he said: "I'm happy to see that our [programming] investments are paying off" at Nickelodeon, as well as MTV, emphasizing ratings are up at Nickelodeon and MTV year-over-year over the past few weeks.

He particularly cited the MTV success of Catfish, arguing its origin is a case study for how content ideas increasingly come from new sources in the digital age. The series is based on an independent movie and has managed to capture the zeitgeist, Dauman argued, but also mentioned online content as a source of ideas for TV programming these days.

Asked about Nickelodeon, he cited the success of the rebooted Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a key turning point for ratings. Asked about SpongeBob Square Pants, Dauman called it "a perennial" and "a very strong franchise." SpongeBob will continue to be a mainstay on Nickelodeon, he added.

Viacom's stock has been under pressure amid ratings challenges at Nickelodeon and, more recently, at MTV.

In his lunch keynote appearance, Dauman was also asked about the TV advertising outlook in Europe. "It's a still challenging environment," Dauman said. "Southern Europe is still bad." Plus there is weakness in some Northern parts of Europe as well, he added. But for Viacom, international ad growth will return in the first quarter of 2013 when adjusting for currency effects, he predicted. "For us, we are reaching a point of bottoming out," Dauman said. He called economic conditions in Europe "difficult," with the situation "very difficult" in Southern Europe.

But he said that overall, he is content with the company's international development despite challenging economies, highlighting India as a major growth market. The CEO said Viacom will continue to expand distribution of its content across devices, platforms and geographies.

He also highlighted that Viacom has continued to launch more channels in Europe over the past year, including a Paramount Channel in Spain despite economic weakness in that country. Dauman reiterated that the Paramount Channel would become a global franchise, with a presence on all continents, over the coming years.

Asked if Viacom could acquire content owners abroad, Dauman said he continues not to expect big acquisitions. Networks in such countries as India and content franchises, such as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, are the likeliest acquisition targets, he said.

Faced with a question if Viacom is concerned about Washington talks about what has been called the "fiscal cliff," he said the overall expectation among CEOs is that a deal will be reached between the White House and Republicans sooner or later. The phrase "fiscal cliff" refers to automatic increases in taxes and reductions in public spending that could come into effect in January if no deal is reached.

The Paramount film studio wasn't a major focus of discussion Monday, but Dauman lauded its "vibrant pipeline of franchise films that are ours." And he added that margins continue to rise at the studio.

Dauman on Monday also reiterated that the Turtles and the development of animated films will allow Viacom to expand its consumer products business.


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