Viacom – TV Marketing from Childhood to Adulthood

In Empires of Entertainment, Jennifer Holt reveals that only “six conglomerates dominate the global media marketplace” (Holt 2).  One of those conglomerates – and, I argue, one of the more damaging ones – is Viacom.


The major step that brought Viacom to level of media-conglomerate that it is today was the Paramount-Viacom merge that occurred in 1993. This meant that one company was one of the largest cable content providers with the biggest library of syndicated television, over 2,000 movies screens, theme parks, and the Paramount film production and distribution assets (151). It was the second biggest media conglomerate next to Time Warner.

Interesting to note, the Financial Syndication (Fin-Syn) rules were going through a second revision (148), so media corporations were just waiting for the rules to be appealed all together so they could continue their conglomeration. By no surprise, Viacom took advantage of the Fin-Syn’s repeal in 1995.

One of the major issues related to Viacom’s conglomeration is the cable networks it owns. Specifically, NickelodeonMTV, and Comedy Central.


Found at Kidscreen.

Nickelodeon, obviously, was a cable channel that targeted kids as its primary audience, while MTV was targeted towards teenagers, and Comedy Central was meant for adults. Essentially, Viacom owned a cable channel for every age demographic.

In Sarah Banet-Weiser’s book Kids Rule! Nickelodeon and Consumer Citizenship, she discusses how Nickelodeon uses an “effective” form of branding that does not necessarily look like branding (Banet-Weiser 20), wherein the company promotes its product – which, in this case, is Viacom as a brand – as a way of life.

Nickelodeon was a cable channel, meaning that fewer people had access to it at the time that it was first developed, it was expected to be riskier than network TV Saturday-morning kids’ programs (17). To fulfill this expectation, Nickelodeon offered programs that would “empower” kids. Shows like Nick News and Kids Pick the President were examples of shows that exemplified Nickelodeon’s mission to “empower” its viewers.

While the mission is noble, Nickelodeon addressed its audience specifically as kids, attempting to create a sort of “us versus them” philosophy (21), wherein the “us” are the kids and the “them” are the teens and adults. With the use of this strategy,  Nickelodeon effectively created brand loyalty.


MTV’s mission, essentially, was not to “empower” teenagers, but, rather, to appeal to their cultural interests at the time. One of the major programs on the channel was Beavis and Butthead, a crude program that appeals to the American teen male. It is something that obviously would not be aired on Nickelodeon, which distinguishes itself as something that isn’t “childish.” It has mature content, making it suitable for teenagers. Similarly, MTV uses the “us versus them” philosophy in their branding strategy, but, in this context, the “us” is no longer children, it is teens. By distinguishing itself as inherently more mature, MTV continues brand loyalty from childhood to adolescence.

To carry the same audience from adolescence to adulthood, Viacom provides Comedy Central, which is a cable channel that targets adult audiences. Programs like South Park, The Daily Showand Mystery Science Theater 3000 provide more adult content. South Park, in a way, is the adult answer to Beavis and Butthead because it is still just as crude, but it has more explicit content, and it deals with more adult themes.

By owning the amount of media that Viacom owns, it has the potential for shaping someone’s identity through the content that they consume. This is one of the key issues that goes along with the affects of deregulation: a single conglomerate could, potentially, shape someone’s entire identity through the content that they consume. Nickelodeon’s form of branding strategy is subtle, yet it works.


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