ViacomCBS CEO: When Life Brings Us Challenges, Adapt Creatively

By Robert M. Bakish | President and CEO at ViacomCBS
May 29, 2020 12:00 PM ET

Originally published on LinkedIn

As the COVID-19 outbreak escalated into a global crisis, the entire ViacomCBS team all over the world has come together in amazing ways to ensure we keep providing the news and entertainment we know consumers are craving during this difficult time. Over the past several weeks, we’ve continued to support those impacted by COVID-19 through our global relief efforts, public awareness campaigns, and dedicated programming, as well as flexed what we call our “adaptive creativity.” This agile approach to creating and delivering content has allowed us to continue serving consumers, partners, and our communities in this uniquely challenging environment.

Last week, thousands of employees tuned in to a virtual town hall to hear leaders from across the company share how their teams, which are being asked to do their jobs differently than they’ve ever done before, are bringing the idea of adaptive creativity to life. 

We heard from Diana Miller, Executive Producer of CBS This Morning, who spoke to the resiliency of the CBS News team in continuing to deliver important COVID-19 coverage under extremely fluid conditions. She and the team have created entirely new workflows to stay on the air, as broadcast locations have changed, interviews are now being done remotely via video conferencing platforms, and editors are cutting their pieces at home and submitting them through the cloud.

All throughout, anchors like Gayle King, Anthony Mason, and Tony Dokoupil have maintained their on-air presence, even while hosting from home. And, rather than disrupting the show’s chemistry, the new format has strengthened their connection to viewers, many of whom are going through the same isolation. 

We also heard from Chris Licht, Showrunner and Executive Producer of The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, which has been producing and airing shows on CBS uninterrupted. After the shutdown of its studio, the team moved quickly to a full work-from-home model and has been leveraging new tools that drive collaboration between their creative and production teams, including an online platform for scriptwriting in real-time and a virtual infrastructure for centralizing and sharing content.

Adaptive creativity “runs in the DNA of The Late Show,” as Chris pointed out, which puts out topical (and hilarious) material that’s often dictated by the unpredictable news cycle. The same can be said about The Daily Show (TDS), which also had to halt in-studio production and convert to a fully remote work setup. But in less than a month, the team pioneered a digital variant – The Daily Social Distancing Show with Trevor Noah – that was an instant hit on YouTube. So much so that we decided to move it to TDS’ regular timeslot on Comedy Central, while continuing to make it available on social – and it’s drawing large audiences.

Internationally, too, our teams are creating great content from around the world. MTV International just premiered MTV Games Live With Charlotte Crosby, an interactive game show series that streams on the brand’s social channels, and that is remotely produced by ViacomCBS Digital Studios International using cloud-based platforms Grabyo and Zoom. MTV also launched MTV Unplugged from Home, a digital reinvention of the iconic music program featuring artists performing – you guessed it – at home, as we encourage fans to practice social distancing.

But we’re not just adapting in the way we make and distribute our content. Equally important, ViacomCBS brands are evolving in how they connect with communities during this difficult time. 

Another of our panelists, Jenny Wall, Chief Marketing Officer for Nickelodeon, highlighted the work that Nick is doing through its #KidsTogether initiative. The campaign features original, multiplatform educational content from SpongeBob SquarePants, Blue’s Clues & You, and other franchises, as well as resources for parents and caregivers. And, via Noggin, our pre-school edutainment service, we’ve reached out to over five million at-risk families to help them with homeschooling, and we are currently offering it free to all new subscribers for 60 days to keep kids engaged and active. 

The brand also quickly created and aired #KidsTogether: A Nickelodeon Two Hall, which was produced remotely in just a week – a testament to the ingenuity, incredible teamwork, and creative spirit that is synonymous with the Nick brand. 

BET is also playing a key role, leading outreach to urban communities of color where the disease has hit the hardest. Jeanine Liburd, Chief Social Impact and Communications Officer for BET Networks, overviewed a series of high-impact initiatives, including the creation of a COVID-19 relief fund in partnership with the United Way to support black Americans in our cities. On 4/22, BET will air a primetime special Saving Our Selves: A BET COVID-19 Relief Effort, co-hosted by Kelly Rowland, Terrence J, and Regina Hall, driving viewers to needed resources. And again, the entire production was done remotely – a herculean feat for talent, crews, and the many others responsible for bringing this to air. 

Both the Nickelodeon and BET campaigns ladder up to our broader ViacomCBS relief efforts to deploy our media assets through PSAs to aid in COVID-19 awareness. That includes #AloneTogether from ViacomCBS and the Ad Council, which has generated over 31,000 linear spots aired globally and more than 450 million video views on social.

We are all feeling the very real impacts of this virus, and glancing at the headlines, it sometimes feels that optimism is in short supply. But I find bright spots every day in the resiliency of the people who make up ViacomCBS, in their ability to adapt with creativity, to stay focused, and to embrace new ways of working. I see firsthand how committed, connected, and collaborative they are in continuing to move our business forward and supporting our audiences and communities.

We are rising to the challenges before us, and that brings me a lot of hope for the future.