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.
The 2006 Viacom is 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.
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 (This rule has since been repealed.)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 bumpy road; 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). 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, who is now in his 90's, 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".
Restructuring and reunion with CBS (2017-2019)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 has instead 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.
Post re-merger (2019-present)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, as part of its post-merger strategy, ViacomCBS President and CEO Bob Bakish announced that CBS All Access would be relaunched under a new name as an all-encompassing platform showcasing content from the conglomerate's family of brands, similar to HBO Max and Peacock. The new service, which expects to see a soft launch later in 2020, will include content from Pluto TV and also offer Showtime as part of a premium tier. Several months later, ViacomCBS formally buried the hatchet with Google and announced an expanded carriage agreement with YouTube TV that will see all of the company's networks available to stream on the platform, as well as the forthcoming CBS All Access relaunch. Prior to the deal, CBS, Pop TV and the Showtime networks were offered on the platform as part of Google's pre-merger agreement with CBS Corporation (with Showtime being part of a premium tier).
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".
- 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 (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):
- BET: Acquired in 2001, BET is dedicated to programming targeting African-Americans.
- CBS: ViacomCBS' flagship broadcast network and America's most-watched network.
- The CW 50%: Co-owned with Warner Bros.. A broadcast network targeting a younger audience than the older skewing CBS, The network is a merger of The WB and former Viacom network UPN.
- CMT: Acquired in 1999; a Country Music turned southern entertainment channel.
- Comedy Central: Became part of MTV Networks after Time Warner sold their stake in the channel in 2003.
- LOGO: An LGBT-targeting network that launched in 2005.
- MTV: Acquired in 1987; ViacomCBS's flagship young adult/millennial cable network (and the poster child for Network Decay). MTV was the first cable network dedicated to music videos but ultimately drifted into programs targeting teenagers as the years went by.
- Nickelodeon: Acquired in 1987; a network and brand for kids and family programming.
- Nick @ Nite: Nick's nighttime program block focusing on contemporary sitcom reruns. TV Land launched in 1996 as a 24/7 spinoff of Nick at Nite.
- Nick Jr.: A Preschool-targeting network that replaced Noggin in 2009.
- Noggin: Launched in 1999 as a joint venture between Nickelodeon and Sesame Workshop. Sesame sold their stake in 2002 and the brand would eventually go dormant in 2009. In 2015, Noggin was relaunched as a mobile subscription service.
- TeenNick: Originally launched in 2001 as a teen-oriented program block on Nickelodeon. A similar block, the N, would launch in 2002 as the nighttime branding for Noggin. The N would launch as a full network in 2007, over the space of Nickelodeon Games and Sports, and adopt its current branding in 2009, after the discontinuation of the original "TEENick" block.
- Nicktoons: Launched in 2002 as Nicktoons TV, Nick's animation network.
- Paramount Network: Launched in 2018; Viacom's third attempt at a general entertainment network after TNN in 2000 and Spike in 2015.
- Spike TV: A male entertainment channel that launched in 2003. It was originally the Nashville Network when CBS acquired it in 1995, and the National Network from 2000-2003, to prevent overlap with CMT. Spike proper would eventually debut after a lawsuit involving Spike Lee was settled. Spike would rebrand as Paramount Network in 2018, but international versions still exist. In 2019, Spike would be relaunched in U.S as a pair of streaming channels on Pluto TV.
- Pluto TV: An ad-supported, free streaming service that works somewhat similarly to cable and satellite. Viacom purchased the service in 2019 and has begun adding channels based on their existing channels to the lineup.
- Pop TV: a fandom-focused, general network entertainment that primarily airs classic and contemporary television dramas sourced from the CBS program libraries, as well as original comedies and reality shows. Essentially CBS' female-targeting Distaff Counterpart to the male-skewing Paramount Network.
- Showtime: A premium pay-tv network. As part of the 2019 merger, the Showtime Networks unit would itself merge with BET Networks.
- VH1: Launched not long before the Warner-Amex sale in 1985 (taking the satellite space of Cable Music Channel, Ted Turner's failed MTV competitor). Originally a Lighter and Softer MTV, but ultimately warped into a culture-centric entertainment channel, leaning towards a similar but older and female-skewing audience as BET.