Viacom is to invest more money in UK programming and content.

That was the message today from Viacom president and CEO Philippe Dauman, who is visiting the company’s operations in the UK this week.

Viacom completed its £450m acquisition of Channel 5 last month, and today Dauman announced the launch of new channel Spike, which will roll out on Freeview next Spring.

Dauman said Viacom – whose TV brands include Nickelodeon, MTV, Comedy Central, VET, VH1 and Paramount Channel – viewed the UK as its second home and “a hub for international expansion.”

Speaking to the Broadcast Press Guild this morning, Dauman said that 10% of Viacom’s employees now reside and work in the UK – 1,100 in total. “The vast majority are in New York, LA and London. London is in our top three cities.”

Dauman said Viacom’s UK networks spend £300m on programming, with almost half that figure on original UK commissions.

“The topline number will continue to grow, and the UK commissioning part of it will continue to grow faster. We think that is the way to go in today’s world, where our viewers want more original fresh content.

“We believe that the UK is a great creative hub…that content we are producing for the UK will also be an important part of what our viewers watch in the rest of the world, including the US.”

Dauman said that Channel 5 “has a lot of room to grow” and that Viacom would continue to invest in the channel.

Asked if one of his ambitions was to see Channel 5 overtake Channel 4, Dauman commented: “That is the first step. We do not have bounds on our ambitions. But we are also not arrogant about our intentions. We know this is a very competitive business, and we respect our competitors. Competition makes you stronger.”

Channel 5 has closed the gap on Channel 4 in terms of ratings in recent years, largely thanks to the acquisition of Big Brother.

“We think Channel 5 has made great progress over the last few years from where it was, it has a long way to go and we will climb up the ranks.”

He said he would leave programming decisions to the commissioning team at C5, but said he would like the average age of the C5 viewer to fall – which would put the broadcaster in closer contention for the 16-34 demographic favoured by C4.

“We do think there is an opportunity to create programming that will bring the average age of the Channel 5 viewer down a bit than it is today. We do think there is an opportunity to target younger audiences on the Channel 5 group.”

Unlike other US studio groups, Dauman ruled out Viacom making a major acquisition of a UK content production company.

Rather, he said Viacom was focused on organic growth through investment in its existing brands and companies.

“We are now a scale player in the UK, we are a major media company in the UK and we want to be bigger. And we are going to be bigger by growing the business.”

Dauman is holding a ‘town hall’ meeting with Viacom’s UK staff this afternoon.

He has also visited Culture Secretary Sajid Javid, who he said welcomed Viacom’s investment into the UK.

Dauman comments follow hard on the heels of Channel 4 chief executive David Abraham’s MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival in August, in which he voiced fears about the takeover of the British TV industry by US media firms.

Referring to the speech, Dauman said: “I can understand how some people are afraid of competition, and strong competition, but we are here to compete, we are here to win more viewership and we will be focused on providing great content on every platform that people want to use.”

Tim Dams

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