Viacom Unveils Digital Studio With Series Slate, VidCon Expansion

Viacom Signage - H 2016
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Viacom Signage - H 2016

The media conglomerate launched Viacom Digital Studios as part of an effort to help BET, Nickelodeon, MTV and Comedy Central reach mobile-first viewers.

Amid the standard pitches from the likes of Vice Media and YouTube at the annual Digital Content NewFronts, the week of showcases kicked off with a presenter with a more protracted history: Viacom.

The media conglomerate behind Nickelodeon, MTV and Comedy Central on Monday hosted its first digital-centric presentation for advertisers, a move designed to signal to brands and viewers alike that Viacom is embracing the digital future that it long fought (see its 2007 lawsuit against Google's YouTube).

The presentation was a culmination of a series of moves that Viacom has made in recent months to better position itself with digital-savvy young audiences and a growing number of cord-cutting households. Late last year, the company tapped Awesomeness chief business officer Kelly Day to lead a new group, Viacom Digital Studios, that would focus on developing original digital programming and branded content across Viacom's portfolio of brands. Viacom then purchased digital platform WhoSay and also acquired VidCon, the company that produces annual events for the online video community (including a three-day fest in Anaheim that draws more than 25,000 people). 

The NewFronts presentation served as a coming-out party of sorts for Viacom Digital Studios, giving Day the opportunity to unveil her strategy for the group. "We're a media brand and we need to connect with our fans wherever they are," she told The Hollywood Reporter

Based on the lineup announced Monday, Day has spent her first five months focusing on developing digital-first talent through a series of mobile and social video projects.

For BET, Viacom has signed an overall deal with De'arra Taylor and Ken Walker, the couple behind the popular YouTube channel De'arra & Ken 4 Life (4.5 million subscribers), to create and perform on original shows for BET Digital. BET has also inked a deal with Beautycon to produce beauty tutorials for an African-American audience. Comedy Central, meanwhile, is launching a creator program led by Nate Dern that will lead five comedians through the process of writing, producing and starring in daily and weekly digital projects. It is also launching a dating-centric series from Akilah Hughes.

At MTV, Viacom is expanding the Cribs franchise to include a new cooking series with Jersey Shore's Snooki and is launching a series about the road to VidCon. And Nickelodeon is launching an e-sports series, as well as the virtual reality game SlimeZone VR Showdown.

Viacom also announced that it will expand VidCon to London, adding to events that already take place in Southern California, Amsterdam and Melbourne. 

Meanwhile, the conglomerate has expanded its deal with Twitter to bring red-carpet coverage and four show formats — including MTV News and BET Breaks — to the social media service's live TV platform. And Viacom recently revealed it had renewed its partnership with Snapchat to produce shows and other interactive content around tentpole series and events. 

Noted Day: 'The trend in digital is toward video of all lengths."