In 2006, Viacom would become "CBS Corporation" after spinning off a new company under the Viacom name. This new incarnation of Viacom consisted of Paramount Pictures, and cable networks, such as MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and BET, among other properties. CBS Corp would retain Showtime, Pop TV (formerly TVGN), and of course, The Eye.
Both Viacom and CBS Corp were majorly held by National Amusements, a theatre chain operator and holding company. After years of negotiations, and amidst a changing entertainment landscape, the two companies would re-unite under its current name in December 2019.
Beginnings (1952-2005)The original Viacom started as CBS's "film sales" division in the mid-1950s, founded to sell some of the network's biggest hits into the syndication market. Back then, CBS had a policy of either owning its shows outright or purchasing the distribution rights, making it so that most of CBS's output from 1950 to 1970 ended being syndicated by CBS as well. NBC and ABC also established their own "film sales" divisions around the same time with the same practices.
This changed in 1971, when the FCC adopted the "fin-syn" rule, which stated that television networks could no longer syndicate their own shows. (This rule has since been repealed.) As a result, CBS decided to spin its sales division off. (The other two networks did the same, with ABC Films becoming Worldvision Enterprises and NBC selling its film library except You Bet Your Life to National Telefilm Associates.) Following this lead, Viacom became one of the busiest syndicators in the USA. Armed with huge hits such as I Love Lucy, The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Hawaii Five-O and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Viacom was doing well for itself by the early 1980s, and was looking to expand.
Its first big purchase was MTV Networksnote in 1985. They already owned another Warner-Amex network, The Movie Channel, after merging it with their own Showtime pay-TV service. Later, Viacom got the distribution rights to The Cosby Show, still a massive hit at the time and a huge potential money maker. The really big purchases came later though after the company fell under the control of theatre magnate Sumner M. Redstone, as Viacom successfully devoured Paramount in 1994, Blockbuster Video the same year and Spelling Entertainment Group note in 1999 (it had already acquired 78% of Spelling via the Blockbuster deal) and finally its own former parent, CBS, in 2000, though its last major purchase was that of BET in 2001.
Split from CBS (2005-2017)In 2005, however, it was decided that Viacom should be split in two. The rationale given at the time was that MTV, Nickelodeon and Paramount were "hot" and the rest of CBS was more "cool", as far as growth was concerned. Viacom spun off MTV Networks and Paramount as a "new" Viacom that took the name, and then the old Viacom renamed itself CBS Corporation. (Paramount Television and its library was kept by CBS, separating it from the movie studio. It was soon merged with CBS' in-house studio to form CBS Paramount Television. The studio is now named CBS Television Studios.) However, many people actually believed that the real reason for the split was a result of declining revenues caused by bad publicity stemming from Janet Jackson's Wardrobe Malfunction during the half-time show for Super Bowl XXXVIII (which was produced by MTV, whom the NFL has banned from ever producing another half-time show; the de-merger conveniently separated MTV from CBS), and a report on 60 Minutes spinoff show 60 Minutes II questioning George W. Bush's service in the National Guard, which later turned out to be forged. The separation was also a Solomon-esque resolution to an intra-company "bake-off" between co-COOs Les Moonves and Tom Freston to replace Sumner Redstone, the majority owner of the company, as CEO. Moonves was still the CEO of CBS Corporation until 2018, when he was forced out amid sexual harassment allegations, while post-separation Viacom CEO Freston was fired several years afterward and replaced with Philippe Dauman, a Viacom director and close friend of Redstone.
Dauman's run as CEO of Viacom marked a period of turmoil; while the company was successful in acquiring the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise from creators Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman, a strained relationship between Dauman and both sides of DreamWorks SKG led to their bosses, Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg, shedding Paramount for Disney and Fox, respectively (although both DreamWorks branches would later join Universal). Dauman's aforementioned resentment for digital media and YouTube, and a synergy strategy that was seen as mediocre at best, led to the company falling behind its competitors in expanding their portfolios, causing them to be disproportionately affected by the ongoing "cord-cutting" trend. Notably, a high-profile dispute with DirecTV in the summer of 2012, which stretched over for a week, caused a viewership crash across all Viacom networks that year. Viacom's intention to move further into animation hit a speed bump after Katzenberg and DreamWorks Animation bolted from the firm, and tensions finally reached a boiling point in 2016 when, after several steep drops in the stock market, Sumner's very estranged daughter, Shari Redstone, returned to the picture. Sumner, whose health was increasingly deteriorating, threw Dauman and partner George Abrams off his trust, a move that has incurred a high-profile lawsuit from Dauman; the feud between the two former friends unceremoniously ended Dauman's tenure at Viacom and got the board of directors overhauled in what the press called "a Game of Thrones".
During this era, the compay was infamous among many YouTube users for removing videosnote , in large part because of former head Dauman's utter hatred toward digital media. Fortunately, things have started to cool down since his ouster. Before that, it was notorious for attacking Star Trek fan sites.
Restructuring and reunion with CBS (2017-present)In 2017, in an effort to turn its fortunes around, Viacom put all attention and resources to focus on six brands: MTV, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., BET, Comedy Central, and Paramount. Spike TV was relaunched as Paramount Network in 2018 in order to bring it in line with the strategy. The company would also acquire another franchise for Nick in the Garfield and U.S. Acres IPs in August 2019.
Viacom has also taken a dive into the streaming world with its purchase of Pluto TV in 2019, a free service modeled after cable television but with primarily internet-sourced content. Instead of following the recent trend of launching all-encompassing SVODs to compete with Netflix and Amazon, Viacom initially co-produced and distributed original programming with third-party outlets such as Facebook Watch and VRV.
On August 13, 2019, an agreement was reached in-which Viacom would merge with CBS Corporation, uniting the two companies for the first time since 2005. Rumors about this have been swirling for years and there have been attempts at a re-merger in the past, but it was the ousting of Les Moonves in 2018 over sexual misconduct allegations that opened the doors to further discussion in June 2019. The deal was officially closed on December 4, 2019, with the combined entity being branded as ViacomCBS. National Amusements retains majority control of the combined firm.
On December 20, 2019, ViacomCBS acquired a 49% stake in Miramax from beIN Media Group, adding a catalog of 700 films to the Paramount Pictures library including Clerks, Pulp Fiction and Good Will Hunting. This became the first acquisition for the company after the re-merger.
In February 2020, ViacomCBS finally unveiled their answer to HBO Max and Peacock: CBS All Access was eventually relaunched under a new name, Paramount+ and joined content from CBS and Nickelodeon, as previously announced before the merger, with the rest of their cable networks' division, Paramount, and Pluto TV, in addition to offering Showtime through a premium tier. Several months later, ViacomCBS announced an expanded carriage agreement with YouTube TV that will see all of the legacy Viacom cable networks added to the platform. Prior to that deal, CBS, Pop TV and the Showtime networks were the only network offered on the platform as part of a pre-merger agreement with CBS Corporation (with Showtime being part of a premium tier). A similar agreement was made with Hulu a year later.
Besides being a syndicator of reruns, the original Viacom has also produced and/or distributed several shows by itself:
- Celebrity Double Dare (failed 1987 pilot with adults and celebrities playing a version of Nick's quintessential game show with all the mess and fun taken away; hosted by Caitlyn Jenner, who also hosted some non-celebrity pilots; soon after, Double Dare would enter syndication (mainly on and co-syndicated by Fox Television Stations))
- Greatest Heroes Of The Bible
- Diagnosis: Murder
- Ed (bizarrely under the byline "A Paramount Company"; this was because of Viacom's production arm having been put under Paramount TV at that point)
- Finders Keepers (1987-89 syndicated run; also w/ Fox Television Stations)
- The Master
- The Perry Mason reunion movies, starting with "Perry Mason Returns".
- The Price Is Right (1972-80 nighttime syndicated version)
- Remote Control (1989-90 syndicated run)
- Various other reunion vehicles based on old CBS shows, such as "Return to Mayberry".
- Sabrina the Teenage Witch
- Split Second (1972) (1986-87 revival; w/ Hatos-Hall and several Canadian TV stations)
- The Adventures of Superboy (TV distribution only in North America, which played a big part in the series being Screwed by the Lawyers)
- The Super Mario Bros Super Show! (TV distribution only)
- You Don't Say! (1978-79 syndicated run)
ViacomCBS owns the following assets (with their own pages):CBS Entertainment Group
- The CW (50%): co-owned with WarnerMedia
ViacomCBS Domestic Media Networks
- MTV Entertainment Group
- Kids & Family
- Showtime Networks
ViacomCBS Networks International
Paramount Pictures Corporation
- Miramax (49%): co-owned with beIN
- Paramount Players
- Paramount Animation
- Nickelodeon Movies
- BET Films
- MTV Films (formerly known as MTV Productions before being renamed)
- Republic Pictures (assets purchased by Viacom in late 1990s. Currently operated through Melange Pictures, LLC)
Digital and Streaming Group
- Rainbow S.r.l. (30%): co-owned with Iginio Straffi
- Bungie: CEO on the board of directors (Not really ownership just listing it here for reference)