Sunday, May 31, 2020

Nickelodeon International Talks Expanding Global Production Activities, Eyeing More International Partnerships

Nickelodeon International is expanding its global production activities and eyeing more international partnerships, reports Gün Akyuz for C21 Media.

ViacomCBS-owned global kids’ brand Nickelodeon is busy diversifying its global activities and ramping up its studio production under president Brian Robbins.

Although Nickelodeon’s U.S. studio remains the production engine for the lion’s share of its originals worldwide, outside the U.S. the network deploys a ‘studio without walls’ model, says London-based Nina Hahn, Senior Vice President (SVP) of production and development at Nickelodeon International. Hahn, who oversees the group’s global content slate outside the U.S., says Nickelodeon International will pair up with external studios on any continent.

Stateside, Nickelodeon’s expanding studio strategy has already led to interesting bedfellows, such its recent content production partnership with Netflix.

“Being at the centre of what kids want, and with Brian Robbins at the helm of Nickelodeon globally, there’s a real push to rejoice in the kid experts that we have always been and figure out what that looks like today,” says Hahn.

“One of the great things that Nickelodeon International brings to the table is the unique boutique of so many different cultures, with so much different talent both in front of and behind the camera.”

Nickelodeon has its work cut out, with linear viewing fragmenting as its main streaming competitor, Disney+, is now forecast to pick up big subscriber numbers as it continues to roll out globally, following its strong U.S. launch last November.

A sanguine Hahn responds: “There has always been competition and this is no different. In some ways, the competition has been a good thing because it’s forced all of us on the linear side – and not just Nickelodeon – to figure out how to take the best of what we are, the experts that we are and mature into a landscape that is ever-changing.”

Upcoming toon It’s Pony involves input from three countries

The Nickelodeon brand is currently available to 400-plus million households in more than 170 countries, through 100 locally programmed linear channels and branded blocks, spanning Nickelodeon and preschool service Nick Jr. There is also the Nick Play and Nick Jr. Play apps featuring shows and games and, on its YouTube Nick Jr channel, attracts about 11 million subscribers.

Now bolstered by an expanding studio model, along with the recent ViacomCBS and CBS All Access streaming developments, which allows it “skin in the game,” Hahn says: “It’s quite exciting because it reminds you to remain nimble, reminds you to figure out how you can take what you do so well but add another arm to it for our group.”

Everyone’s challenge, Hahn continues, will be “fantastic product at the beginning of the food chain. We spend a lot of time making sure, through research and all of these partnerships, figuring out what’s culturally relevant to kids and what’s happening now, how we can see the landscape change to our benefit.”

Current programming, original production, children’s

A core mission for Hahn is ensuring that Nickelodeon continues to reflect the reality for kids in an ever-shifting landscape.

Hahn says Nickelodeon’s route is to create content that feels relevant to today’s culturally agnostic kids, kids who are used to hearing different accents and understanding different ways of looking at things.

Diversity is a notable feature in Nickelodeon’s shows. “We have a lot of shows on the docket that speak to a lot of the diversity, authenticity and inclusion aspects of what is second nature to kids today,” says Hahn.

Examples of such diversity include Emmy-winning animated series The Loud House, featuring same-gender parents; its spin-off The Casasgrandes, following a Latina family, including a character with Down’s syndrome and was renewed for a second season in February following its launch in the U.S. last fall; hit preschool show Nella the Princess Knight, preschool’s first mixed-race female knight; and live-action series Hunter Street, now in season 4, which centres on a family of foster kids.

Such programmes are “really trying to show the new definition of what it means to be a family, what it means to be a tribe or what it means to belong to something, across both the domestic and the international side,” says Hahn.

Hunter Street focuses on a family with foster kids

Behind the scenes, Nick’s production models are becoming increasingly diverse too. Hunter Street is based on one set of scripts, one crew and a shared cast but with a local Dutch version (De Ludwigs) and a global version for everybody else – the first time a Nickelodeon show has been made that way, says Hahn.

“It’s a really interesting way of producing, looking at scripts and figuring out how to appeal to everybody culturally, not just one small group.”

Launching soon is It’s Pony (20×11’), from Nickelodeon International’s UK team and production company Blue Zoo. Developed by British creator Ant Blades and Hahn, the series was written by two New York-based writers, voice cast in LA and overseen by a French art director and so on, in what Hahn dubs Nick’s “UN production model.” She explains: “We’re pulling together the best of the best from wherever they may be in order to make what we feel is a hit show that’s going to be relevant to kids everywhere.”

The show will also be the first time Nickelodeon has produced an animated series outside the U.S. that will launch worldwide. The series, which debuted successfully stateside in January, begins rolling out to the rest of the world in April, starting with the UK. “We’ve done it across preschool, across live-action and across TV movies, but we’re yet to do it across Big Nick animation,” she says.

“It’s quite a feather in our cap and quite an exciting moment for the international industry, because it’s the first time this has really ever been done.”

Another newcomer is Ollie’s Pack!, Nickelodeon’s Canadian co-production with Corus Entertainment-owned Nelvana. Chris Rose, Vice President (VP) of animation for Nickelodeon International calls the production a “no-brainer,” following the pair’s success with Corn & Peg. The project, which launches in the U.S. in April before rolling out internationally, came out of the Nickelodeon Animation Shorts Program and “ticks all the boxes when it comes to fun, relatable characters, dynamic and highly imaginative storylines,” says Rose.

Based in London, Hahn’s team is the anchor and source of support for production and development in all regions, but the way it works with local countries is evolving into a more symbiotic relationship, she says.

Asia has been a top region for Nickelodeon production over the past two years, with activity exploding in China and Singapore in particular, says Hahn.

Canadian copro Ollie’s Pack! launches in the US in April

Now in production and with season two in the pipeline is CG animated preschool show Deer Squad (formally Deer Run), a copro with Chinese streamer iQiyi. The show, which spent 18 months in development in China, was boarded and produced in China and written in the UK.

The collaboration is a milestone for Nickelodeon International, comments Lynsey O’Callaghan, director of current preschool series and acquisitions at the company, and a “testament to our commitment and belief that high-quality, original animation content can come from any part of the world.”

Season one, which launches internationally this year, also marks “the first time Nick Asia is taking a Chinese original from the conception phase before airing on our networks internationally,” says O’Callaghan.

Last autumn, Nickelodeon also forged a copro venture with Alibaba-owned Chinese giant Youku as part of a wider content deal with its parent, Viacom. Under the venture, the two companies will develop and produce an original animated series with the working title Little Luban.

Nickelodeon underpins everything it does with globally conducted research. In the preschool space, for instance, more local nuances are required to satisfy a parent that a show ‘is made for my child in my region,’ or is meaningful to a young child. In Deer Squad, for instance, the balance of physical comedy and visual jokes and emotion-led stories is somewhat different to what a Western audience would be used to, says Hahn.

“Figuring out how to connect the dots between what works and is relevant to the Chinese kid and what works and is relevant to the Western kid has been part of our process of upcycling development and how we make things for a more global audience,” she explains.

“It’s really been a blast to try to figure that out, and there’s definitely an answer. It’s just a matter of doing it from the very early stages, with a very clearly representative team of all of these areas – it’s like the UN of production.”

Nickelodeon is now expanding its Asian production with two as-yet undisclosed animated projects now in the works in both South Korea and India, targeting the 10-year-old sweet spot.

“Nickelodeon’s Western-produced content doesn’t do well on Nick India, and more generally, lots of the Western content doesn’t work because kids in India have a different taste to many other kids,” explains Hahn.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to figure out how we could find something that could be made once and used both in the East and West. The answer was to come up with the idea together and build it from scratch together all the way through every single element of design, scripting, boarding, rough cuts and the rest.”

All these projects are helping to inform the kind of models for further collaborations in the region, with another two or three relationships now in the early stages. “These first models will allow us to continue producing, using the lessons of the production models that we’ve deployed in a lot of these areas,” says Hahn.

CG preschool show Deer Squad is a copro with iQiyi

In Europe, UK-produced live-action series Goldie’s Oldies (20×22’) is being prepared for launch later this year.

Produced in-house by Viacom International Studios (VIS) UK and filmed in Manchester, it is VIS’s first original commission for Nickelodeon’s channels and platforms outside the U.S., says Charly Valentine, VP of live-action production and development at Nickelodeon International.

The project used a global writing room to bring in different comedic and cultural perspectives, along with its universal themes, including the importance of family and multigenerational relationships, says the exec.

As part of its core kids mission, Hahn says Nickelodeon’s vision is about “growing the studio business and growing the kid expertise that we have to be able to make content for everyone. You’re starting to see it, obviously with some of these relationships, such as with Netflix and other deals that have already been announced.

“The idea is to be a studio as well as a broadcaster, such that we can make great content for kids everywhere, whether it’s for our own networks or for third parties. Figuring out those third-party relationships has been something I’m really excited about,” says Hahn.

Coming out of the Nickelodeon International group soon will be an as-yet undisclosed new partnership that marks the first stage of that trajectory, and others will follow, Hahn reveals.

“We’re always open to new partnerships, we’re always open to reinventing a deal and figuring out another way to work at it and remain nimble,” she says.


Viacom International Studios Targets Social Issues, Diversity & Inclusion

The format catalog from Viacom International Studios (VIS) contains a number of titles that may seem cheeky and salacious on the surface—16 and Pregnant and Ex on the Beach among them—but at their core have deeper themes that touch on societal issues and feature the type of inclusive casting that very much needs to be seen on screen.

16 and Pregnant, for example, launched on MTV in the U.S. in summer 2009 and was one of the first reality shows to tackle the issue of teen pregnancy. The show quickly became a hit, successfully shining a light on the harsh realities of being a teenage mom in an authentic way that resonated with MTV’s young viewers. Teen Mom followed shortly thereafter, focusing on a group of cast members and their families from the original series and the challenges they faced. This gave way to Teen Mom OG and Teen Mom: Young & Pregnant.

“What unites the four are the recurring themes of navigating unexpected motherhood, support (or lack of it) from the father or their families, and the impact on their relationships and everyday lives,” says Laura Burrell, head of formats at Viacom International Studios.

“Fast forward to today, and the series continues to shine a stark light on new challenges as their kids have grown older,” she adds. “For example, having another child with a different partner and the pressures of fame while bringing up a young family.”

The format 16 and Pregnant (or in its Teen Mom guise) has been adapted in eight territories, including the U.K., Italy, Russia, Australia and South Africa, and many of these have spawned multiple seasons and ongoing productions. Each local version has stayed true to the original format while allowing for different cultural or socioeconomic conditions. The South African version, for example, is produced in conjunction with MTV’s Staying Alive Foundation***Image*** and raised awareness of HIV, featuring a young mother whose partner was HIV positive.

“One of the enduring appeals of the format is the way that it allows for a number of social and topical issues to be explored in an honest and authentic way under the overarching theme of young motherhood,” says Burrell.

The U.K. version, now in its sixth season, is a resounding success for MTV. The Russian treatment has proven popular for Channel U, which is launching the second season this spring.

Are You the One? and Ex on the Beach are two of VIS’s biggest dating franchises, with multiple seasons produced in a host of territories. “While both started by featuring a traditional heterosexual cast, over the years the casting has become more diverse and inclusive,” Burrell points out. “Incidentally, the most recent season of Are You the One? in the U.S. broke new ground by having all the contestants identify as sexually fluid. This changed the dynamic of the game because anyone in the villa could be a ‘perfect match’ for anyone else, rather than just girl/boy couples.”

Ex on the Beach has also evolved in its casting approach. Contestants who are gay, bisexual, trans or drag queens, of all different ethnicities and ages, have featured in the various local versions, and “audiences around the world have embraced this inclusive casting,” Burrell says.

Similarly, True Love or True Lies? and Finding Prince Charming have diversity rooted in their core DNA. Finding Prince Charming, which premiered on Logo TV in fall 2016, was the first fully same-sex dating show. The inaugural international adaptation recently launched in Germany on RTL’s SVOD service TVNOW, with its strong performance earning it a second-season commission and a coveted Grimme-Preis 2020 award. “We anticipate that this success will only help to drive new sales of the format,” says Burrell.

True Love or Trues Lies? is a competitive reality show that poses the question: What makes the perfect couple? Diversity is fundamental to how the game works, as the real couples must work out who the pretend couples are among them—a task that becomes even more difficult when couples seem an unlikely match on the surface. “Questioning common preconceptions about gender, disability, age gaps, religion and race, this highly addictive format was a game-changer for MTV UK when it launched in the summer of 2018,” Burrell explains. “Critically praised for its inclusion, it attracted new audiences to the channel, over-delivering in its target audience.”

New to the catalog, the Comedy Central format Gods of the Game pits everyday “mortals” against sporting “gods” in fantastical versions of the gods’ sports. The format features a number of sporting legends, including Paralympic champion Hannah Cockcroft and British track star Mo Farah. “Spanning all ages, shapes and sizes, the irreverent format uses inclusive casting to empower audiences and prove that anyone can take part, enjoy sport and (potentially) beat an Olympic champion!” says Burrell.

“VIS has a proven ability of creating powerful and entertaining content that speaks to kids and young adults in a way that few others can,” she adds. “From the pioneering days of The Real World and later 16 and Pregnant and Catfish: The TV Show, these formats resonate with young audiences around the world because they shine a light on the social issues affecting them in a non-judgmental and entertaining way. The Real World was one of the first platforms to enable young adults to discuss a broad range of issues from religion, race, and class, to HIV, pregnancy and coming out. Our recent global deal with Facebook Watch for new seasons only demonstrates that the format is as relevant today as it was 25 years ago.”

A more recent example is the investigative series Ghosted: Love Gone Missing, which explores the phenomenon of “ghosting” and helps people reconnect with their loved ones, giving them a chance of resolution. The series launched in the U.S. on MTV last summer, and VIS is in the process of negotiating multiple option deals in international markets.

At the younger end of the age spectrum, there’s Nickelodeon’s Dream Rooms, an aspirational format that sees kids nominate deserving best friends to have their bedroom redecorated. “The original Dutch series was able to successfully highlight social issues facing kids today,” Burrell says. “For example, one child was nominated because he is a carer for his disabled mother.”

These formats and the topics they touch on help to reflect the audiences watching them in all their diverse glory.



VIS aborda temáticas sociales, diversidad e inclusión

El catálogo de formatos de Viacom International Studios (VIS) cuenta con varios títulos que a primera vista, pudieran parecer irreverentes y escandalosos, con 16 and Pregnant y Ex on the Beach entre ellos. Pero en su esencia, presentan temáticas profundas que abordan problemas sociales con un casting incluyente que necesita ser representado en pantalla.

16 and Pregnant por ejemplo, debutó por MTV en Estados Unidos en el verano de 2009 y fue uno de los primeros realities en abordar el tema del embarazo juvenil. El show se convirtió rápidamente en un éxito, enfocando de una forma auténtica, las duras realidades de ser una madre adolescente. El show enganchó a los jóvenes televidentes de MTV. Poco tiempo después, le siguió Teen Mom, que presentaba a miembros del elenco y sus familias de la serie original y los desafíos que enfrentaban. El programa llevó a la realización de Teen Mom OG y Teen Mom: Young & Pregnant.

“Lo que une a los cuatro shows son los temas recurrentes de lidiar con la maternidad inesperada, el apoyo (o carencia de él) por parte del padre o sus familias, y el impacto en sus relaciones y vidas cotidianas”, comenta Laura Burrell, directora de formatos de Viacom International Studios.

“Actualmente, las series continúan enfocándose en los nuevos retos que enfrentan ahora que sus hijos han crecido”, agrega la ejecutiva. “Por ejemplo, tener otro hijo con una pareja diferente y las presiones de la fama mientras que cría a una familia joven”.

El formato 16 and Pregnant ha sido adaptado en ocho territorios, incluyendo el Reino Unido, Italia, Rusia, Australia y Sudáfrica, y muchas versiones han generado múltiples temporadas y producciones continuas. Cada versión local ha permanecido fiel al formato original mientras abre espacio para condiciones culturales y socioeconómicas diferentes. La versión sudafricana, por ejemplo, es producida en conjunto con Staying Alive Foundation de MTV y despertó conciencia sobre VIH, presentando a una joven madre cuya pareja era VIH positivo.

“Uno de los perdurables atractivos del formato es la forma en que varios temas sociales sea exploran de una manera honesta y auténtica bajo la temática general de la maternidad juvenil”, dice Burrell.

La versión inglesa, actualmente en su sexta temporada, es un éxito rotundo para MTV. La adaptación rusa ha sido popular en Channel U, que lanzará el segundo ciclo durante la primavera.

Are You the One? y Ex on the Beach son dos de las franquicias de citas más grandes de VIS, con múltiples temporadas producidas en varios territorios. “Aunque ambos comenzaron con elencos ***Imagen***heterosexuales, los participantes se han vuelto más diversos e incluyentes”, destaca Burrell. “Incidentalmente, la reciente temporada de Are You the One? en Estados Unidos innovó al tener a todos los concursantes identificándose como fluidamente sexuales. Esto cambió la dinámica del juego porque cualquier persona en la villa podía ser la pareja perfecta para cualquier persona, en lugar de sólo tener parejas heterosexuales”.

Ex on the Beach también ha evolucionado su estrategia de casting. Los concursantes gay, bisexuales, transexuales o drag queens, todos de diferentes etnicidades y edades, han participado en las diferentes versiones locales, y “las audiencias alrededor del mundo han acogido a este casting incluyente”, explica la ejecutiva.

De igual forma, True Love or True Lies? y Finding Prince Charming cuentan con la diversidad como parte clave de su ADN. Finding Prince Charming, que debutó por Logo TV en el otoño de 2016, fue el primer show de citas completamente para el mismo sexo. La primera adaptación internacional debutó en TVNOW, el servicio SVOD de RTL en Alemania, con un sólido desempeño que le generó el encargo para una segunda temporada y un premio Grimme-Preis 2020. “Esperamos que este éxito ayudará a impulsar nuevas ventas del formato”, señala Burrell.

True Love or True Lies? es un reality de competencia que formula la pregunta: ¿Qué constituye la pareja perfecta? La diversidad es una parte fundamental de cómo funciona el juego, puesto que las parejas reales deberán descubrir cuáles son las parejas ficticias entre ellas, una labor que se vuelve más difícil cuando las parejas no parecen tener compatibilidad. “Este formato muy adictivo cuestiona las preconcepciones de género, discapacidad, diferencia de edad, religión y raza, y fue innovador para MTV UK cuando se lanzó en el verano de 2018”, comenta la ejecutiva. “Aclamada por la crítica por su inclusión, atrajo a nuevas audiencias al canal, superando sus resultados en la audiencia target”.

Una novedad del catálogo es el formato Gods of the Game de Comedy Central. El show presenta a ‘mortales’ enfrentando a los ‘dioses’ en versiones fantásticas de los deportes. El formato cuenta con varias leyendas del deporte, incluyendo la campeona paralímpica Hannah Cockcroft, y la estrella del atletismo inglés Mo Farah. “Con participantes de todas las edades, formas y tamaños, el formato irreverente utiliza un elenco diverso para empoderar a las audiencias y prueban que cualquier persona puede participar, disfrutar el deporte y (potencialmente) ganarle a un campeón olímpico”, afirma Burrell.

“VIS tiene una capacidad comprobada de crear contenido poderoso y entretenido que habla a niños y jóvenes de una manera que pocos pueden”, agrega la ejecutiva. “Desde los días de The Real World y luego con 16 and Pregnant y Catfish: The TV Show, las audiencias juveniles se identifican con estos formatos alrededor del mundo porque enfocan temas sociales que los afectan de una forma imparcial y entretenida. The Real World fue una de las primeras plataformas en permitirle a los jóvenes en hablar sobre una variedad de temas como religión, raza, clase, VIH, embarazo y revelar sus preferencias sexuales. Nuestro reciente acuerdo global con Facebook Watch para nuevas temporadas del show demuestra que el formato es tan relevante hoy como hace 25 años”.

Un ejemplo más reciente es la serie investigativa Ghosted: Love Gone Missing, que explora el fenómeno de los ‘fantasmas’ y ayuda a la gente a reconectarse con sus seres queridos para darles resolución. La serie se lanzó en Estados Unidos en MTV el verano pasado, y VIS está en proceso de negociar múltiples acuerdos en mercados internacionales

En el segmento infantil, se encuentra Dream Rooms de Nickelodeon, un formato inspirador donde los niños nominan a sus mejores amigos para redecorar sus habitaciones. “La serie danesa original pudo destacar exitosamente los problemas sociales que los niños enfrentan actualmente”, dice Burrell. “Por ejemplo, un niño fue nominado porque cuida de su madre discapacitada”.

Estos formatos y los temas que abordan ayudan a reflejar a las audiencias en todo su esplendor.


From TBI Vision:

How borderless storytelling is evolving kids production models

Nina Hahn, SVP of international production & development at Nickelodeon, explains how global streamers have created a new generation of viewers and greater diversity in programming

One of the biggest evolutions brought on by the rise of global platforms has been the rapid expansion of global content. As virtual geographic borders have diminished, audiences have become used to content that is made in exotic locations, written in different languages or drawn by artists from every corner of the world.

Reinforced by a powerful trend towards borderless storytelling, this expansion in subject and style has enabled the kids business to embrace greater diversity both on-screen and behind the camera. Content makers all over the world are breaking down creative geographical barriers to create compelling storytelling formats that can be replicated nearly anywhere.

This is true at Nickelodeon. From Netherlands-originated live action series Hunter Street to Chinese animation franchise Deer Squad, Nick has prioritised partnering with creative talent from all around the world, evolving our model throughout a rapid decade of development. Currently, our international division has upwards of 25 original series in production or development across every continent worldwide. Coming soon are projects sourced and made in India, Israel, South Korea, Singapore, Brazil, Colombia and the U.K.

And we’re not alone. Streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon are also offering more local stories that can reach global audiences. China’s Scissor Seven, India’s Mighty Little Bheem, South Africa’s Mama K and Japan’s Oni are just a few examples of how audiences can embrace diverse cultures.

Culturally agnostic kids

The industry’s decision to invest in global content is a recognition that kids today are more culturally agnostic than ever before. The endless array of stories and ideas presented to kids via the web has made them global citizens, with common values and a shared sense of adventure and humour.

But cultural agnosticism is not the same as cultural homogeneity. Our content always will be led by creative visionaries at the centre, but surrounded by globally diverse teams that are empowered to bring their unique voices to the table. It’s like the United Nations of kids’ production – led by the voice and vision of the creator. Key to making this work is ensuring everyone is clear about the creative direction of the series from the start.

Research also plays a central role. Right now, we’re working on a global comedy animation series where rigorous insights helped us reconcile the Western audience’s proclivity for emotionally-led stories with the Eastern audience’s preference for gag-driven stories.

Of course, the kids content industry is well-structured to embrace this trend towards borderless storytelling and cross-cultural production teams. For decades, the economics has dictated that indie producers must co-produce to raise budgets. This financial imperative has, inexorably, brought us to a place where companies like 9 Story Media Group/Brown Bag Films, WildBrain, Cottonwood Media, Blue Zoo, TeamTO and Studio 100 are sure-footed international storytellers, embracing co-pro as an opportunity to elevate their shows. Proof of this is Cottonwood’s success selling live action series Find Me In Paris.

Challenges to building a robust international production model range from time zones and local laws to whether a show should be subtitled, dubbed or dialogue free. At Nickelodeon, we’ve responded by staying nimble, taking risks and having as many creatives at bat as possible. Take our Global Shorts Programme, which has been active for over ten years now and seen upwards of 500 projects run through its veins. Our most recent success is It’s Pony. Created by the UK’s Ant Blades, it involves talent from the US, France and Eastern Europe, on both sides of the camera.

The key takeaway is that kids today have more uniting than separating them. Seamless connectivity has created a curious, sophisticated audience that is hungry to embrace diverse voices and stories – without knowing it. And this requires culturally inclusive teams to make sure the end result delivers authentic emotional connections.


From the ViacomCBS Newsroom:

In the Office With...


“We're working hard to deliver the benefits of the merger across the international markets.”

Our In the Office With ... series, gives Viacom executives the opportunity to reveal a little bit about who they are, how they lead, and what drives them in the day-to-day.

For David Lynn, President and CEO of ViacomCBS Networks International, converting to a remote working lifestyle was familiar. As head of ViacomCBS’ international teams, which has employees in 30 countries, he’s accustomed to working across time zones via video chat and phone calls.

Before the coronavirus crisis began to spread globally, Lynn—who oversees all ViacomCBS’ international business and brands, including MTV, Comedy Central, and Nickelodeon as well as Telefe, Channel 5, Network 10, Paramount+—was busy integrating CBS into Viacom’s legacy international footprint and continuing to develop the company’s digital presence. With the evolving nature of COVID-19, ensuring that ViacomCBS’ offices around the world adjusted to a new way of working also became a priority. “The short-term objective as a management team is to make sure that all our employees are safe and well. So that’s number one. And also, to protect our business, get through this crisis and mitigate the impact of the virus on our financial performance,” he said.

“At the same time, we’re working hard to deliver the benefits of the merger across the international markets,” Lynn added. “I’m really excited about the opportunities that are now available to us.”

Lynn spoke to the ViacomCBS Newsroom about the company’s international streaming approach, its digital transformation, and the benefits of the Viacom and CBS merger, which closed at the end of 2019. He also shared his best tips on how to adapt to remote work.

What goals do you have for ViacomCBS Networks International over the next year?

David Lynn: First, of course, is the health and safety of our employees. Beyond that we are focused on scaling the benefits of the merger internationally—particularly the incredible pipelines that we have from the combined company of new and library content. We are in the midst of transforming our business and expanding our streaming business—both SVOD and AVOD are key to that. We are also focused on evolving our workplace culture, strengthening our digital skills across the organization, and building our Diversity & Inclusion and culture strategies for each of our different regions.

How do you manage territories around the world that are so different from one another? And, as part of that, how do you measure the success in each since they’re all in very different levels of development?

DL: If I look at the landscape that we are operating in, it’s true that all our markets are at different stages of development, but I would say that all of them are being disrupted. We’re seeing a growing popularity of video streaming across the world. Our key to success is understanding where each market sits on that transition curve between TV and streaming and then adapt our strategy accordingly.

We’ve been very successful over the last few years at growing and delivering at an exceptional rate. That’s been because we’ve been driving the business to be more digitally focused over this time. And on top of that, we have strong local teams. They have the market knowledge and the local relationships to deliver on our objectives.

We also have a healthy culture of what we call “competitive collaboration” between our local teams. People are always trying to come up with new ideas and new innovations. And one of our great advantages is we can take something that works, that has been piloted successfully in one market, and then very quickly roll it out across other markets internationally.


Speaking of streaming—can you describe your strategy for expanding streaming offerings across international markets?

DL: I appointed Pierluigi Gazzolo to head our streaming and studio business about six months ago. I also brought in Kelly Day as our new Chief Operating Officer with a view to drive our digital transformation. We’re currently developing our go-to-market strategies, both in the free and pay space. We’re working to align our SVOD strategy with the U.S. via a service that aggregates content from all of ViacomCBS’ brands—which is an incredibly powerful proposition.

We are not starting from scratch. We launched Paramount+—which is an aggregated on-demand service—in Nordics two years ago and have since rolled it out to 10 different territories internationally. It’s a great example of taking an idea from one place and scaling it. We’re now looking at how we build on this success using the combined pipeline of Viacom and CBS and build out more territories internationally. Launching Paramount+ a couple of years ago gave us a head start, as did CBS being one of the first broadcasters to have a streaming service with CBS All Access.

We have millions of subscribers across ViacomCBS streaming services globally and we have an aggressive plan to continue to grow.

We also launched Noggin on Apple TV internationally in March and we’re already in 60 territories with that service. Due to the pandemic, we are offering extended free trial periods, 30-day or 60-days of our streaming services, including Paramount+ and Noggin, and that obviously is to meet the huge demand there is from consumers at home.

In addition to expanding the streaming business internationally, what are other areas of focus?

DL: The studio business is a key growth opportunity across the international business. We’ve made incredible progress over the last few years. This is a relatively new business for us; We went from virtually no revenue from the source in 2016 to over $30 million in 2019. The Latin American studios have been the key driver of this growth. We’ve also rolled out studios elsewhere, and we now have studios in the UK, Europe, and Asia.

As an example, one of my favorites is a format that we developed in Argentina called 100 Days To Fall in Love. We sold the Spanish language rights to Telemundo, and Showtime is developing an English language version, which is a great example of cross-company collaboration.

We’ve sold our first original animation to Netflix globally, called Sharkdog. And our UK studio sold its first documentary series, called Story of Songs, to Reelz in the U.S. There’s a lot of activity happening in that space, and our studio business is accelerating rapidly as it matures.


With the studio business, how are you navigating production shutdowns?

DL: It’ll have an impact on the business this year. But I’m fundamentally very optimistic about this business. Once we get through the pandemic we’ll return to growth.

We’re using this time to move the business forward. Our creators and developers are continuing to develop new ideas and they’re in active conversations with potential partners. Everyone’s been really creative and adaptive. For example, there’s a new project called Balcony Stories, a short-form series using user-generated content with 27 local versions that’ll air in 100 countries. We also recently launched a storyteller’s initiative during the quarantine period to work with local writers on new ideas. And, we’ve closed some deals as well on the short-form side with Facebook and YouTube. So we’re still keeping the machine moving.

Given your role, we’d love to learn more about how you build and manage your team. What do you look for in potential hires?

DL: The thing I look for most is passion and energy. I want people who believe in our vision and have the drive to make that happen.

My most recent hire was Kelly Day, previously the head of Viacom Digital Studios. I’ve been really impressed with how she effectively launched and built that business over the last three years and grew it incredibly well. Kelly really embodies that passion and energy. She came on board in March and is focused on driving the digital transformation of the business.

You’ve obviously had a lot of experience managing teams in distant locations. What advice do you have for people who are new to navigating working remotely?

DL: The principles of good management are the same, whether you’re in the office or working remotely. It’s about setting and communicating your goals and expectations, building strong teams, and supporting an effective culture that motivates people. It’s quite easy to miss issues, whether they be people issues or business issues when you’re not there on the ground, so you’ve got to really keep your ears open.

With offices in some 30 countries around the world, we’re always focused on being attuned to cultural differences. Just one example of that is time zones. It’s a simple thing, but just respecting the boundaries of when people are working and when they’re not working. All of us, at the moment, are trying to find the balance between our working lives and our private lives since we’re all based from home. I think that there are permanent learnings from this. I think we’ll travel less and we’ll adapt to a more flexible working environment as a result of this.

Small Talk

Off-hours pursuit: Cycling is my big thing. I usually cycle to and from work every day.

At the moment, it's been safer because the streets of London are pretty empty. We’ve been allowed an hour of exercise in the UK so I’ve gone cycling with my wife and three kids over the last couple of weekends. We’ve been going around Piccadilly Circus, Buckingham Palace, and there's nobody there. I've been telling the kids, "This is the only time in your lives you're going to see London like this."

Where you go to escape: I'm lucky enough to own a little house in a village in Ireland called Glandore. I’m Irish and I love getting back there. This village, it's tiny and very Irish in that it has only one shop and three pubs.

Second career possibility: I'd love to do something in property. Over the years, my wife and I have bought a couple of old houses, renovated them and then either lived in them or sold them. It's something I’m passionate about and it's something that my wife is really skilled in as well. It's something that we did together and something I would love to do again in the future.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.


More Nick: Nickelodeon Upfront 2020 Roundup!

Originally published: Tuesday, March 10, 2020.

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