Monday, November 21, 2011

Broadcast Interviews David Lynn, Managing Director Of Viacom International Media Networks UK And Ireland, Australia And New Zealand

From Broadcast:
The Broadcast Interview

David Lynn, Viacom

A workplace retooled for collaboration, key brand investment and a continued push on global formats will position Viacom’s UK channels for the future, its UK MD tells Alex Farber.

The front of the MTV offices just off Camden High Street look so much like a building site that for a split second it seems as if the broadcaster is no longer open for business. In fact, there is a hive of activity taking place behind the temporary plasterboard exterior facade, with the building work a physical manifestation of the evolution under way at the UK HQ of the global organisation.

The relaxed and affable managing director David Lynn greets me, apologising for the noise, and rushes me into the boardroom, past the giant SpongeBob SquarePants model that dominates his own glass-walled office.

Like a proud expectant father, the first thing Lynn shows me is a computer simulation of what the finished project, due next summer, will look like. “It’s only when you knock it all down and see the space that’s left that you realise how huge the project is,” he says. “Although the price tag did give us a hint that this was going to be big.”

The offices are being redesigned to make way for the broadcaster’s Comedy Central and Nickelodeon staff, who are moving up from their individual Soho offices. The extra room to house 650 staff comes at the expense of the in-house production studios.

The move is designed to stoke collaboration across the business, following a rebrand at the start of this year to Viacom International Media Networks [VIMN] from MTV Networks [MTVN], to reflect the growing importance of all the channels. Significantly, the channels will remain separate editorially to maintain “strong unique brand identities”.

It also cements the position of the UK as MTV’s hub of international commissioning and is backed with a 50% year-on-year commissioning hike in UK orders – though Lynn refuses to reveal how much spend will be ploughed into homegrown shows.

And any content investments in MTV or Comedy Central for the UK are primed to reach a bigger audience than has previously been possible following the leap of both channels up the Sky EPG in February.

MTV’s viewing figures have grown by 50% as a direct result, while the less dramatic shift for Comedy Central has nevertheless resulted in gains of around 24%.

The move follows a steady evolution of MTV into an entertainment channel, albeit one that retains its musical roots.

“We felt that where we were on the EPG, it was hard for viewers to discover the content – particularly the entertainment content; it really needs to sit in a very visible part of the EPG,” says Lynn. “Big investments are made more possible by the ability of the audience to discover content in a more prominent position.”

The success of reality series Geordie Shore – MTV’s highest-ever rated UK show, with an average audience of 600,000 – was as a direct result of the EPG jump, Lynn believes.

And securing Friends for Comedy Central has also been a coup, boosting audiences by 43% and providing a platform for shows such as Threesome, the channel’s first scripted comedy.

Lynn’s strategy now is to bolster spend on the shows that he sees as the heart of the channels. “We’ve had a fantastic year and our ambition is to grow on that,” he says. “We plan to continue to invest across the three brands into next year.”

But rather than just see domestic gains, Lynn has his eyes fixed firmly on making use of the global distribution network at his disposal, presiding over content that he can air internationally. In turn, this will enable increased spend. “The UK is well positioned as a location to invest in more international content,” he says.

House of Anubis, a live action Nickelodeon show, produced by Lime Pictures for both the US and UK markets, is raised as a prime example of this approach. And the UK base also houses MTV’s international vice-president of content and programming David Booth, who is on the lookout for formats with international potential.

Equally, MTV will continue to borrow from the US to try to ensure formats it launches succeed, as with Geordie Shore’s inheritance from long-running reality show Jersey Shore.

While audiences are proving to be relatively robust, the advertising market is less stable. Forecasts are down for the short term, with a question mark against investment from brands next year, but Lynn says anecdotally media buyers are more positive. Overall, he has a “cautious but balanced” outlook for 2012.

One way in which the turbulence in the advertising market is being addressed is to ensure the business is diversifying its revenue streams. Consumer products, mainly licensing and merchandise, has long been a vital part of Nickelodeon’s bottom line and will continue to be exploited.

Live events are an important area of growth for MTV and earlier this summer the broadcaster hosted a series of club nights in Ibiza that acted both as marketing tools and profit generators.

The week following our interview, we meet again at the MTV EMA awards, held in Belfast and viewed in 640 million homes in 159 countries. The volume of viewers, and strength of support from guests including Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber, underlines the power the brand continues to wield 30 years after its launch.

And the MTV OD service, which offers access to long-form content via a day or weekly subscription, has “performed well” since its launch earlier this year, Lynn says. But there are no short-term plans to extend it to the other channels. He considers it to be a “complementary” rather than “cannibalising” service to its linear TV business.

“It’s good for us to have a direct contact with the consumer. It doesn’t in anyway replace core business, which is to supply linear channels to pay-TV operators like Sky or Virgin,” he says. “It’s about offering consumers cheap, legal availability of content online.”

Similarly, Lynn refuses to be drawn on the broadcaster’s strategy for connected TV, including YouView, demurring that no decisions have yet been made. Two-screen interaction is an area Lynn is more comfortable discussing and an engagement format that fits with its 16- to 34-year-old audience. Along with the EPG leap, Lynn points to the strong social media campaign supporting Geordie Shore as a big factor in its success.

Lynn has laid the foundations, positioning the business solidly for the future, but in an increasingly congested market it will be vital for the MTV family of channels to continue to attract and invest in breakout shows if it is to compete on an equal footing with its terrestrial-funded entertainment rivals.

David Lynn on…
I think it’s great for music, so it is something we want to be in. In the same way with live music in HD you really get a sense of being there, 3D brings viewers one step closer, so we definitely want to pursue it.

Channel launches
Blink launched in Poland with Endemol [featuring shows such as Hot In Cleveland]. Our aim is to expand into other markets but the UK is not part of that. We look at brands we have in the portfolio. The UK market is very well catered for, but gaps will still emerge over time. As a big international content owner, we will look to exploit those with our own content or with partners.

Ofcom guidance
We focus a lot on being compliant and listen very closely to Ofcom. The recent changes have just been about clarifying what the rules are. So to that extent we have good guidance, we’re happy to work within the framework as a responsible broadcaster.

Fact File
2007-present: Managing director, Viacom International Media Networks UK & Ireland, Australia & New Zealand; executive vice-president, international content distribution;
2004-2007: senior vice-president/managing director, Nickelodeon UK;
2001-2004: general manager, Paramount Comedy UK;
1999-2001: vice-president, commercial operations , Paramount Comedy UK
Watches: Threesome, Boardwalk Empire, The Killing, Who Do You Think You Are?
Also, a bit more from Broadcast:
MTV records 250,000 VoD views

MTV has had 250,000 paid-for views of its content since it launched its direct–to-consumer VoD service [Video On Demand] in February [2011].

The micropayment platform, which charges £2 per day or £3 per week for unlimited access to shows including Teen Mom, Jersey Shore and 16 And Pregnant, has been used by 40,000 consumers.

Viacom International Media Networks managing director David Lynn said the service had “performed well” but was “additive” to its main linear TV business rather than considered as a potential replacement.

“It’s good for us to have direct contact with the consumer as we can learn more about them,” said Lynn.

He added that Viacom was considering introducing similar video players for Comedy Central and Nickelodeon, although it is not in his short-term plans.

“We need to take stock and learn from what we’ve seen this year. Going direct-to-consumer is new for us and we’re learning about pricing and distribution before launching any other services.”

Lynn stressed that keeping strong relationships with its linear pay-TV providers, Sky and Virgin Media, remained its priority.

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