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Week In Review: Viacom Is Not A Prom King Network; Disney’s OTT Magic

1. Viacom Is Not A Prom King Network

Albert Einstein is alleged to have said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. This quote immediately came to mind upon hearing the news that Viacom was planning to launch an OTT app filled with hours of library content from MTV, VH1 and Comedy Central.

Why It Matters

If you’re thinking that maybe all that programming will seem fresh because nobody watched it the first time out, we’re on the same page. Launching an OTT app makes sense if you’re HBO and people really want to watch your shows. And even then it’s risky because churn: once Game of Thrones or Westworld is done, there’s not a whole lot there to keep people paying $15/month—just a bunch of old movies and there are a whole lot of places where people can watch old movies without having to pay $15/month.

What’s ironic, in the Alanis Morissette kind of way, is that Viacom is back in talks with CBS about merging. The very same CBS whose own standalone app, CBS All Access, is not pulling in the viewer numbers they were hoping for, even with its very own version of Star Trek to lure subscribers in. (Our friend Colin Dixon has all the details on that.)

What neither of Viacom nor CBS seem to get is that viewers have a limited amount of viewing time and that Peak TV means there’s a whole lot to watch. The people who traditionally watch CBS and even Viacom are not the people installing OTT apps, certainly not the people who spend most of their viewing time watching them. They are, rather, the ones watching TV at home, via a set top box, every night from 7 to 11 pm. The app-installers are all about the Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, HBO and Showtime. And if they do stray, it’s to the top tier basic cable networks—FX, USA, AMC, TNT—not to CBS or MTV.

That doesn’t mean that CBS and Viacom are completely broken, throw them in the trash heap. It just means that TV has its own version of what I long ago termed “Prom King Brands”—brands that people want to be associated with because of their perceived cool factor. Those brands were able to pull off promotions on social media and elsewhere that other brands could not precisely because they had that cool factor.

The simple definition of a Prom King Brand was “would someone unironically wear a cap or a t-shirt with the brand’s logo on it?” If yes, it was a Prom King Brand. Easy enough to apply the same test to figure out who is a Prom King Network. (Though looking at the Golden Globe and Emmy nominations over the past few years may be just as effective.)

And in 2018, neither Viacom nor CBS are Prom King Networks. Which is why they should not be trying to launch OTT apps.

What You Need To Do About It

If you’re a network, be self-aware. If you’re not a Prom King Network, then don’t fall prey to the lure of OTT apps. No matter how much of your content you’ve been able to snatch back from Netflix and Hulu. Viewers, as the saying goes, are just not that into you. You have your core audience for sure, but it’s not an app downloading kind of audience. Play to your strengths.

If you’re an MVPD or an advertiser, the Prom King Brand lesson is a good one and still definitely holds up. Bear it mind as you plot your next move.


2. Disney’s OTT Magic

Disney gave out details of the OTT app it’s planning to launch sometime in 2019. No R-rated programs, Marvel comics, a bunch of original series, and some movies aimed at kids. (Deadline has the full rundown if you’re interested.)

Why It Matters

While the assumption is that Disney will make Hulu the Disney/Comcast app if and when the merger goes through, it was never clear if that would include kids programming too.

Kids programming is challenging. When it works, it’s a cultural phenomenon (e.g., High School Musical.) And while that’s not as easy as it sounds, everyone knows that Disney is all about kids and trusts them to come up with shows that kids love. (Note to Viacom: Nick still has lots of love, especially with Millennials who are new parents and grew up with Rugrats and Hey Arnold! in the 90s. That’s a better OTT app idea than MTV.)

The biggest problem with kids programming is that kids age out of it much sooner than the networks let on: by the time they are somewhere between 10 and 12, most kids have moved on to adult programming. Not anything super racy, but sitcoms like Big Band Theory and Black-ish make newly minted middle schoolers feel like they’re all grown up.

That’s more of an advertising and perception problem however—Disney is going to pull in the viewers regardless, they’ll just be younger than they’d like to admit.

What You Need To Do About It

If you’re Nickelodeon, launch some counter-programming, but be strategic about it. You don’t have enough money to outspend Disney across TV and movies. So just find their weak spots and attack.

It you’re Netflix, Amazon or HBO, either double down on your children’s programming or go home. But with Disney in the house, any half-assed efforts are going to seem even more half assed. (Not that you’ve been half-assing it, but don’t take this as a sign to give up or stay the course. The threat is real.)

And if you’re an advertiser—stop advertising to kids. Run some public service type stuff. Not that it seems as if Disney has any intention of going the ad-supported route. But still.