Viacom sets up international hubs to pump out short-form content

This month, Viacom announced it’s launching three divisions in Buenos Aires, New York and London to increase the international output of its short-form digital content. Initially, the hubs, which will create, distribute and monetize digital content, will focus on three Viacom brands: MTV, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central.

Viacom has always had people in the U.K. producing content that’s exported globally, this added investment comes from the success of short-form series from these brands. In 2017, Comedy Central produced 14 short-form shows like “Josh Investigates,” “Comedians Solve World Problems” and “Bad Snappers” in 150 territories on owned and operated and social platforms. This year, Comedy Central is planning to produce 20 series. On YouTube, MTV International subscribers have doubled to nearly 850,000 since October 2017, according to Social Blade data.

“We have always made content in the U.K. This is adding a lot more fuel to how we utilize formats in several markets and how the hubs work with each other to increase output,” said Brendan Yam, vp and gm of Viacom Digital Studios International. “We’re figuring out how to work more efficiently as international organization.”

With its international hubs, Viacom plans to boost efficiencies through a single social publishing platform for sharing content on social, centralized language versioning capabilities, a centralized ‘bank’ of formats and branded intellectual property for creating local versions with local talent and partners.

The company said there are a “substantial” number of team members who work on short-form in the U.K. and in its other international offices, where it will be increasing the headcount.

As of last year, most of Viacom’s original series development is done in-house, with a small amount of production outsourced. The benefits are having more visibility and control over consistency, particularly in what a digital series needs to work globally, such as not using local talent. Since the move to producing the bulk of content in-house, the media company is seeing more talent bring ideas directly to Viacom — “Modern Horror Stories,” for instance, came from in-house talent — and the company has been able to create more content for brands and partners.

Jake Cassels, managing director at production studio The Connected Set, noted the immediate opportunity for short-form video in the U.K. is still nascent, saying that “broadcasters like BBC Three are showing more interest, but it’s a slow burn. [Viacom’s investment is] a symbol of confidence in the U.K. market.”

According to Cassels, another motivation behind the U.K. investment is that U.K. producers are in a more favorable position for selling rights internationally by selling shows to separate territories rather than all in one bulk.

“Viacom is future-proofing themselves,” he said. “But as content production gets more global and distributed on global platforms, it’s going to become harder to do those deals.”

The challenge with short-form video is making it work financially when currently the U.K. short-form ad market is cornered by YouTube. The threshold of the numbers of subscribers needed to monetize on the platform has increased, so YouTube alone won’t cover decent content costs, said Cassels. Content creators need to produce in volume and shoot in ways where it can distribute on multiple platforms while monetizing through branded content and producing for other content creators.

“With direct revenue from platforms, there’s a lot of work to do there. Monetization is not a direct activity from ad sales,” said Yam, adding that Viacom Digital Studios International is looking at cutting deals with pay-TV operators, mobile carriers and other publishers. “Branded content, doing production for other partners and including social reach and activity has been critical. We’re interested in seeing [direct revenue from platforms] develop further.”

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Image: courtesy of Comedy Central UK via Facebook.

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