Working to reverse declines in ratings and ad revenue, Viacom outlined programming strategies at Nickelodeon and MTV to recapture the attention of their young audiences.
Nickelodeon is beginning to create preschool programming for the post-millennial generation, a group the company hopes to keep on its channels throughout their youth.
At MTV, the network is preparing for life after Jersey Shore with a schedule the company hopes will be more balanced and deeper.
Viacom's Networks group reported lower revenue and profits during the first quarter. Speaking on the company's earnings conference call with analysts, Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman said that the company has been increasing its investment in programming.
Dauman said viewers "want new shows and new episodes in faster cycles and so we're delivering it on our networks, accelerating development timelines and production to accelerate our ratings turnaround."
Analysts following Viacom have been particularly concerned with Nickelodeon, whose ratings suddenly began plummeting at the end of 2011, and MTV, which has been pumped up by Jersey Shore, a phenomenon that ended in December. Those networks were the first two Dauman addressed in his remarks.
Dauman said that Nickelodeon is focused on three priorities: to reclaim and retain its Saturday morning leadership, to strengthen its weekday afternoon block and to build its preschool viewership to feed future big-kid audiences.
"That last point is particularly critical as the network hits the generational reset button," Dauman said. "Nickelodeon's long-term strategy is to refine its programming filter for an audience that is purely post-millennial, a position the network will detail to advertisers as the kids upfront kicks off next month."
Dauman said that in a month or so, Nick will be introducing a new live afternoon block, and that through September, the network will be debuting six new animated series, including Monsters and Aliens.
The network will also be freshening up its workhorses SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer.
"Much of the success in getting new programming to screens faster can be tied back to Nickelodeon's move to centralize and reorganize its creative leadership in Los Angeles under Russell Hicks," named president of content development last August, Dauman said. "Our television movie and short-form, live-action and animation teams are working in a coordinated fashion, sharing best practices and writers, and have taken steps to accelerate development and production. We have especially focused on enhancing our animation efforts and we have attracted significant new talent in that area."
Nickelodeon has also been working on its multiplatform offerings and plans to debut what Dauman called "an innovative standalone app" in the months to come.
Dauman said that MTV has begun to answer the question of what's next after Jersey Shore.
He said new programming president Susanne Daniels has hit the ground running. She has completed a review of production partners and accelerated the network's pilot process. The network also hired Mina Lefevre from ABC Family as its new head of scripted programming.
"The overarching mission of MTV remains unchanged. We're focused on being the cultural home of the millennial generation," Dauman said. "But within that context, we're rolling out more and more original programs that tap into creative themes that we see popping up in youth culture."
One of those themes is the new ways millennials navigate relationships. MTV's Catfish is an example of that. Dauman said Catfish was the highest-rated new cable series with MTV's core 12-34-year-old audience last year. "The vitality of the show has been remarkable, even before the phenomenon of catfishing went mainstream" thanks to the story of Notre Dame football player Manti Te'o and his nonexistent girlfriend.
Dauman said MTV is also reinventing reality with diverse new voices and expanding its female comedy franchise.
"The underpinnings of this creative breadth is a scheduling strategy that uses our existing hits as a launch pad for the influx of new originals and creates a more balanced weekly schedule for audiences and advertisers," Dauman said.
Dauman said that the huge ratings for Jersey Shore created an over-emphasis on one night for MTV. "We are now successfully building out additional nights, whether it's the Teen Mom and Catfish reality block on Mondays or female comedies like Snooki and JWoww, Nikki & Sara Live and Awkward on Tuesday nights," he said.
MTV is attracting audiences by creating programming events on weekends by running marathons of such shows as True Life and Jackass.