Will Viacom Show us the Future of Media Companies?

When people ask me about the future of TV, I frequently tell them “just watch Viacom.” Their ratings have plummeted in recent years, and the recent loss of Stewart and Colbert may well be irreparable. Or is it the beginning of a brand new approach to big media?

Viacom’s in a fascinating position to watch. They obviously own a lot of content, but if you look into the brands, it’s very youth-oriented. Which puts the company squarely in the targets for where the bulk of change is occurring. If “those kids today” truly prefer YouTube and Netflix to Saturday Morning Cartoons, that impacts Viacom heavily. And while I have a whole other series of thoughts regarding how younger audiences behaviors shift as they age, it’s also safe to say at this point that today’s 20-year-old will act like today’s 30-year-old in a decade. They won’t.

If “those kids today” are actually cord-nevers, that is about to impact everybody. And “about” in TV industry terms could be a year, or maybe ten — hard to say.

The two biggest challenges networks face are changing audience behaviors and an advertising industry shift toward more data. This combination puts Viacom in the position of having to react to the changing times in near-real-time if they want to be relevant in 10 years. And a-changing they are! Viacom is pushing ahead in so many ways, trying new technologies, looking for what’s working (and what’s not). In a way they appear to be trying to avoid the classic Innovator’s Dilemma conundrum.

They may make it, they may not. All depends on how good their ability to be a media giant and a scrappy startup at the same time. But watch them, I shall.

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Originally published at livedigitally.com on February 18, 2015.

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