What’s Viacom’s game?

What’s Viacom’s game?
When Paramount’s global digital media boss Alex Carloss told MCV the firm was “very, very excited about the growth in interactive entertainment” back in February, he wasn’t kidding.

Last Friday, Variety revealed that the film distribution giant had officially announced its arrival as a games publisher – no doubt causing a chill down the spine of all publishers that license film rights from the firm.

The company made no bones about its towering ambition in games. “We are entering into deals now where we will be publishing games this year,” revealed Sandi Isaacs, Paramount’s senior VP of interactive and mobile.

“There’s going to be a slate where in some cases we’re publishing, in some cases we’re co-publishing, or in others we’re funding development and another publisher buys it. It’s important for us to have a flexible model.”

The company has picked former Activision man Matt Candler as its VP of interactive development. Erstwhile Sega and Fox executive Luke Letizia has also joined as executive director of interactive licensing.

But Paramount’s announcement is just the tip of a monster iceberg – as behemoth parent Viacom’s nebulous group of subsidiaries (see box, far right) all begin to turn their attentions to interactive entertainment.

“Broadly speaking, it’s exciting to work for a company that has a portfolio that crosses film, interactive entertainment and online,” Paramount’s Carloss explains. “That’s a strength of position that Viacom certainly holds.”

Viacom also owns MTV – a brand that everyone immediately recognises for its rich heritage in the music space. And it won’t be massive surprise to see the division push ahead with publishing plans in the near future.

MTV Networks (MTVN) encompasses firms such as MTV, Nickelodeon and casual games portal Shockwave – as well as owning original Guitar Hero and now Rock Band developer Harmonix.

And that family of recognisable brands for gamers could be set to grow.

MTV has already pledged a whopping $500 million to games, which the firm has told MCV could be increased should the right opportunities come along. President of global digital media at MTVN Mika Salmi tells MCV:
“We’re looking at which direction we should go when it comes to the food chain of the gaming world. Self-publishing is definitely a possibility. There’s nothing imminent, but it’s definitely something we’d consider.”

The capability for MTV and Paramount to ‘borrow’ from each other in the games space hasn’t gone unnoticed by Salmi.

When asked if he could see a day when MTV teams up with the movie specialist he replies: “Absolutely. They have some of our labels already – the MTV films label and the Nickelodeon label being good examples. We’re talking to them on the gaming side and the virtual worlds side. There are a lot of clear partnerships and ways we can work with them.”

With all of these different strands pushing ever closer into the games space, Viacom is particularly looking to become a leader in the casual games space – especially when it comes to its Nickelodeon licences.

The firm recently signed a licensing deal with Take Two, which will provide an outlet for Nickelodeon’s franchises on DS with its all-new 2K Play label.

Viacom believes that this could be the start of its real ascent to become casual gaming’s premier operator.

Arwed-Ralf Grenzbach, VP of video games, music and special products for Nickelodeon and Viacom’s Consumer Products division, explains:

“We are enjoying a very successful partnership with our publishers and are concentrating on expanding this exciting platform to deliver an even more dynamic and interactive experience to our worldwide audience.”

And it doesn’t just stop with 2K. “We are enjoying a very successful partnership with our publishers and are concentrating on expanding and leveraging this exciting platform to deliver an even more dynamic and interactive experience to our worldwide audience,” he continues.

All the talk of ‘dominance’ in the global video games industry currently circulates around Activision-Blizzard and EA’s exciting possible takeover of Take Two – but that attitude may yet prove a tad myopic.

Viacom didn’t get where it is today without having an instinctive nose for where the money is.

And with yet more major plans under its hat in the entertainment software space, it’s obviously picked up a strong scent in games.

Who does Viacom own?

Viacom’s list of subsidiaries reads like a who’s who of entertainment across the gamut of digital media. Under its wing, it houses:

Film: Viacom International, Paramount Pictures, DreamWorks, Republic Pictures, MTV Films, Nickelodeon Movies, Go Fish Pictures

Television: Comedy Central, Logo, BET, Spike, TV Land, Nick at Nite, Nickelodeon, Noggin, The N, Nick Jr TEENick, MTV, VH1, MTV2, CMT, MHD

Video Games: Xfire, Harmonix, GameTrailers, Neopets, Shockwave


Viacom's secret weapon?

Viacom’s owners already enjoy a stake with one established publisher in video games – Midway.

Viacom chairman and majority shareholder Sumner Redstone’s daughter, Shari Redstone, became chair of Midway’s Board in December and her father owns a major stake in the publisher – which could be up to 90 per cent.

Shari Redstone has since said: “In 2008, we plan to release an impressive slate of games and I will work closely with management and my fellow board members to continue pursuing exciting growth opportunities for Midway.”

Sumner Redstone has cryptically added: “I am totally confident of Midway's success. I believe that this will become apparent as future events evolve.”

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