This year, Viacom has decided to go all out for the BET Awards. Tomorrow’s [Sunday, June 26] award show will not only be on BET itself but also shown live across the rest of Viacom’s major channels: MTV, VH1, SpikeTV, Comedy Central and even Nickelodeon.
This strategy should guarantee a maximum number of viewers by bringing in audiences who wouldn’t normally tune in for the awards on BET. It’s also a sign that what used to be considered a more niche cultural event has become mainstream.
The show has something to appeal to the differing demographics that normally tune in to MTV, SpikeTV, Nickelodeon, and (of course) BET. Stevie Wonder’s planned Prince tribute will likely be a highlight of the show. In addition to Wonder, the tribute will feature Sheila E., D’Angelo, The Roots and Janelle Monae. Muhammad Ali will also be honored during the broadcast.
A successful show is especially important in the wake of recent shakeups at Viacom, BET’s corporate parent. Sumner Redstone, Viacom’s majority owner and longtime chairman, resigned his chairmanship in February after a court ordered an evaluation of the 92 year old’s mental faculties. Sumner removed his replacement as chairman, Philippe Dauman, from Viacom’s board along with four other board members earlier this month. The move was widely believed to presage a move to replace Dauman as Chairman and CEO. Dauman isn’t going down without a fight, though. Dauman, and another board member who was removed, filed a motion in a Massachusetts court seeking an examination of the mogul’s mental health to prevent what they are alleging is a takeover attempt by Redstone’s daughter, Shari. Shari insists she’s merely supporting her father and trying to restore good governance at Viacom after a sharp decline in the company’s stock this year.
In addition, factors like on-demand, Netflix and time-shifting have all contributed to a year’s long decline in viewership of traditional TV networks. This has made live events all the more important to the networks’ bottom lines as viewers can’t skip the ads. The Super Bowl has always been the biggest advertising event of the year, with 30 second ads running over $5 million this year; a 10 percent increase over last year in spite of a modest three percent growth in viewership. Advertisers paid as much $2.2 million (up from $2 million last year) for 30 second spots for this year’s Academy Awards show in spite of the fact Oscars viewership fell by 15 percent from the 2014 show and the 2015 show. This in a market where advertising prices for traditional recorded programs have been falling for years. Advertisers’ preference for live events may have been a key factor in the decision to spread the BET Awards across so many of Viacom’s channels.
A successful awards show would be a bright spot for Viacom amid the drama going on behind the scenes. Given advertisers’ strong preference for live events, the BET Awards becoming a cross-platform hit would mark a huge boon for Viacom. Future award shows will demand higher prices from advertisers, especially if the audience shows strong growth this year from last year. If it’s successful, the new model could be followed by Viacom for future MTV Awards, Spike’s Guys Choice Awards, and even Nickelodeon’s Kids Choice Awards.
Written By: Sean Jameson