The giant cable conglomerate is being criticized for its poor financial performance. Could the programs its channels show be the reason?
This past Tuesday, the Hollywoodtradepress was abuzz about a slideshow presentation created by Viacom shareholder Erik Jackson, criticizing the media conglomerate’s poor financial performance. While Jackson’s critique was aimed primarily at the behavior of Viacom’s top managers, surely another reason for Viacom’s failure is the content it produces.
In the 1980s, the first decade of widespread cable TV, Viacom was king. The conglomerate’s networks were hugely popular, especially among the young. MTV and VH1 drew viewers with their emphasis on music. Nickelodeon enchanted children with original programming meant for them, while Country Music Television catered to a small but fiercely loyal group of viewers.
But in the years since, the content on Viacom-owned networks has plunged into the toilet. MTV has turned almost totally away from music, first by promoting reckless and irresponsible teen behavior on “reality” programs like The Real World,Jersey Shore,Savage U,Girl Code,Virgin Territory, and similar shows. MTV then followed this up with two years of openly sex-themed, teen-targeted drama like Skins, The Hard Times of RJ Berger, The Inbetweeners,Awkward, and others.
Meanwhile, MTV’s formerly laid-back cousin VH1 has been airing rubbish like Dating Naked, even advertising it with lewd billboards…yet ratings have been dismal. The first episode of Dating Naked gained only 800,000 viewers; in it’s second week, Dating Naked didn’t even make the list of 100 most-viewed cable programs; and hasn’t set the cable world on fire since…nor has VH1’s companion trashy series, Walk of Shame Shuttle.
This is not even to mention Spike’s devolution, first into sexist, toilet-humor drama and shows celebrating brainless machismo, to its current status and a home for non-stop reruns of Cops and World’s Wildest Police Videos. And, despite its ballyhooed new format, even TV Land is down in viewers and revenue.
Little wonder over 60 rural cable companies have dumped Viacom, with only minimal customer defection. Clearly, a majority of viewers at home simply don’t care about receiving MTV, VH1, Spike, or Viacom’s other networks. But maybe they would if Viacom offered them something the entire family can watch, instead of allegedly “edgy” programming intended only to shock or titillate.