Viacom Brand Gone To Pot

Yes it has, literally and figuratively. The stock is way down; there is not much good news.

We found some even worse news in this week’s The New York Observer. It was in a profile of a bicycling pot messenger in New York. It seems that one of his top delivery spots is Viacom (NYSE: VIA). Yes, Viacom, a company worth billions, one of the nation’s most powerful institutions, that owns some of the world’s top TV franchises, as well as Paramount. In Spencer Morgan’s Culture column, he reports in a story on pot messenger Stefan Fitzgerald that some of his top routes were in offices, particularly Viacom. “Viacom. I feel like I’m at Viacom every day”

As a teen in the 1980s, we always liked MTV and VH-1. They might have run some saucy videos, but it stopped there. Somewhere, the programming got nasty, and programmers became infatuated with sex, as opposed to music. There is a difference between saucy and nasty, and somehow the folks in charge of the various MTV Networks forgot how to tell the difference.

It got to the point where most of MTV Networks were unwatchable, except if you were a sex starved teen. Nickelodeon and BET, also brands of MTV Networks, also went downhill; we know what the early employees of each network, with their idealism, think of what Nick and BET are about now. We cringe to think, for instance, of Sheila Johnson, co founder of BET, and what she must think of the cable channel now.

London’s Guardian reported how the company had been officially labeled offensive, and fined in Europe for its programming.

Ofcom has imposed the hefty fine for “widespread and persistent” breaches of its broadcasting code by MTV Networks Europe channels MTV UK, MTV France, MTV Hits and TMF.

The regulator said MTV had, in some cases, “repeatedly” broken the pre-watershed content ban.

“Ofcom concluded that this material was not justified by the context of broadcasts that were likely to appeal to children and that the likely audience would have expected to have been protected from the most offensive language and material in such programming,” the regulator said in a statement.

We don’t want to sound like prudes here, but sometimes, someone has to have an intervention. We thought perhaps there might be a thematic intervention that was needed to bring the great brands of MTV Networks back to sanity. But never did we think we needed an ACTUAL intervention until we read the pot dealer news yesterday.

So how does MTV get back its decency, and its stock price, without losing its edge? It needs to do two things.

  • First, it needs to ask the question that a parent would ask. For every show, every major decision, it needs to ask the question, “Do you want your kids watching that?” These days, parents are pretty open to things, but asking that simple question will at least draw a line somewhere.
  • Secondly, it needs to stay within the law. That means to not only make sure you are not fined for programming. But also, management should make sure the illegal drugs stay out and off of the property, especially when you are one of the nation’s top producers of children’s programming.

Today, we were just reading Peggy Noonan today in her Nov. 7, 2008 OpinionJournal column called The Children are Watching. It was written about the Obama election, but it speaks to much of the programming of Viacom’s MTV networks.

The phrase I often worriedly think of when I see, on television, gross violence, cruelty, a vulgarity of character, erectile dysfunction ads, news reports that reflect a mean and cynical attitude toward America, and still-menacing if increasingly antique rappers is: The children are watching. They’re absorbing and understanding life via this darkness. Well, Tuesday at 11 p.m., as an old barrier that was rotting and waiting to fall, fell, I got to think it happily: The children are watching. And absorbing a better, deeper understanding of life in America.

Viacom. The kids are watching. Let’s make a new start.


  • Garland Pollard

    J. Garland Pollard IV is editor/publisher of BrandlandUSA. Since 2006, the website has chronicled the history and business of America’s great brands.

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