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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

How ViacomCBS Is Connecting to Fans During the Coronavirus Crisis

Via the ViacomCBS Newsroom:


‘Sonic The Hedgehog’ goes on-demand early and ‘The Daily Social Distancing Show with Trevor Noah’ moves from digital to linear.

The coronavirus has caused a radical shift in how—and how much—content is consumed around the globe. With millions of people forgoing typical social activities, there’s been an increased demand for options that can offer on-demand information and entertainment. Behind the camera, news crews are working amid unprecedented conditions to deliver constant updates, and late night shows known for slick in-studio productions are now finding creative ways to give fans daily boosts.

With this in mind, ViacomCBS brands have taken new approaches to support their fans during the global pandemic. The Daily Show With Trevor Noah has been doing segments from the host’s couch while Stephen Colbert delivered his monologue from the bathtub. Amidst the shuttering of movie theaters, Paramount Pictures announced that it will digitally release Sonic The Hedgehog on March 31, just 45 days since its theater launch.

ViacomCBS also partnered with the Ad Council and the U.S. government on a PSA campaign that encourages social distancing. Starting last week, the #AloneTogether campaign aired on linear television spots and via paid social media. Talent from across the brand portfolio, including Trevor Noah and David Spade, as well as accounts from shows like Siesta Key and Lip Sync Battle, participated in the campaign.

Here’s a look at how the brands at ViacomCBS are finding creative ways to keep audiences entertained and informed:


Bellator fighter Cris Cyborg is offering daily quarantine workouts on YouTube as gyms and studios around the world are closed in order to lessen the spread of COVID-19. The daily workouts—which launched in partnership with the ViacomCBS #AloneTogether campaign—will be live on Cyborg’s channel beginning at 10 a.m. PST every Monday through Friday and they will be saved for users to watch at any time.

CBS All Access

On March 23, CBS All Access announced it would offer 30-day free trials to new customers, just ahead of the finale of Star Trek: Picard.

The streamer enlisted the help of Jean-Luc Picard himself, Sir Patrick Stewart, to deliver the news.

“That is the heart of Star Trek, how to become more human,” Stewart says in the clip. The month-long trial is redeemable until April 23 by using the code “GIFT” when signing up.

CBS News

The CBS News division has continued to deliver round-the-clock coverage on-air and online despite several staffers testing positive for the virus. In the last weeks, a smaller than normal staff has produced CBS Sunday Morning and 60 Minutes. Affiliates from Boston and San Francisco are helping CBSN, the streaming network, with additional space and resources. CBS News Radio moved its technical base from New York to Washington. And, the local CBS news channel in New York has led with anchors from Los Angeles and San Francisco.

CBS This Morning moved its studio location several times last week, relocating temporarily to the the DC studio of CBS Evening News with Norah O’Donnell since its normal West 57th Street studio had to close. Last Thursday it broadcast from the Ed Sullivan theater, the usual home of The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. “I couldn’t even promise [the anchors] teleprompters at first,” producer Diana Miller told Variety. “They’re so flexible. It’s so clear that they want to be on the air. They’re incredibly resilient, positive and curious. They are the face of the operation and they are good at keeping us all calm.”

CBS Television Studios

The Late Show With Stephen Colbert stopped filming with a live audience on March 12 and in the days following, the show shut down in-studio production, but ramped up production remotely.

The Late Show recorded new monologues March 16-18 from Colbert’s home, which were edited into scheduled repeats of The Late Show. They aired on online and on CBS. Of note were the locations he chose: on March 16, Colbert delivered his monologue from his bathtub; on the 17th, he sat beside a fire in his backyard; and on Wednesday, March 18, he greeted viewers from his front porch.

The Late Late Show With James Corden will air a primetime special on March 30 at 10 p.m. EST on CBS in the wake of COVID-19.

Corden will host the show, titled Homefest: James Corden’s Late Late Show Special from his garage and feature special guests via webcam, like Will Ferrel and David Blaine. There will also be special music performances from BTS, Billie Eilish with Finneas, Dua Lipa, Andrea Bocelli, John Legend, and more.

CBS Sports

To give basketball fans their March Madness fix, CBS Sports will air entire classic March Madness games over the next few weeks.

Comedy Central

Since The Daily Show stopped filming last week, host Trevor Noah has been filming digital segments and monologues from his couch and guests have appeared via video chat. The digital version of the late night talk show, labeled The Daily Social Distancing Show with Trevor Noah, which began streaming via online and social channels on March 18 will air on linear beginning Monday, March 23. The online episodes were an immediate hit—earning recognition for the production value and amassing more than 3 million viewers on YouTube within the first day of release.

Noah’s also created educational messages related to the coronavirus for the ViacomCBS’ #AloneTogether PSA campaign, as well as for the Mayor’s Office of NYC. On The Daily Show YouTube page, viewers can donate to No Kid Hungry via a simple button. The show’s fundraising feature has already helped raise more than $140,000 toward the organization.

David Spade, who hosts the late night show Lights Out With David Spade, for the network has been recording jokes and monologues from his Los Angeles home, which he’s nicknamed “the bunker.” Spade is recording the videos himself and then passing them along to Comedy Central to post on YouTube and Twitter, but he’s uploaded the videos to Instagram on his own.


To encourage music lovers to practice self-quarantine, MTV brought back its classic show Unplugged. The first installment featured an at-home unplugged performance from Wyclef Jean. The series is available to stream on YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram. Additional artists will be announced soon.


Nickelodeon launched its summer schedule a few months early. The scheduled programming is designed for school-age children. The network is also airing two new animated shows on a daily basis: The Casagrandes, a spin-off of its popular show The Loud House, and It’s Pony, a British cartoon. Audiences have also been able to watch marathons of shows like SpongeBob SquarePants, PAW Patrol, and Henry Danger.

To help inform parents and children about the pandemic, the network has launched a special website called, which features informational short-form content about COVID-19 for children and downloadable activities. Children can receive hand washing tips from the Bubble Guppies or learn about social distancing from SpongeBob.

The Nick Jr. preschool streaming service, Noggin, also launched on Apple TV in 25 territories, including the U.S., the UK, Germany, and France. New customers receive a free 7-day trial through the app.

Paramount Pictures

Paramount Pictures announced last Friday that the family-friendly flick Sonic The Hedgehog, based on the Sega video game character, would be available on-demand on March 31.

As well, the studio’s film The Love Birds will be released to Netflix since its theatrical and SXSW premieres had to be cancelled.


On March 20, Showtime announced it will offer a free 30-day trial to new customers. Users who sign up before May 3 will have access to the premium network’s hits like Billions, Shameless, The Chi, and Ray Donovan.

Simon & Schuster

As many schools have announced weeks-long closures, Simon & Schuster issued a temporary policy whereby teachers and booksellers can read its children’s books aloud to classes and customers over streaming platforms.

The publisher has also given authors information about making the most of their social media accounts during coronavirus and pledged to double its annual contribution to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation, which helps booksellers in need.

Smithsonian Channel

In light of global travel bans, Smithsonian Channel is helping viewers all 50 states without leaving home by streaming Aerial America on Smithsonian Channel AVOD and YouTube.

To give people a breather from their new day-to-day, the network is also offering bi-weekly yoga class from Julie Montagu on Facebook Live at 2 p.m. EST on Mondays and Fridays. The brand also has a #CutenessBreak Twitter thread featuring its vast library of cute animal content on one mega-thread, as well as new weekly #MondayMotivation Twitter campaign, in which fans can get a personalized, hand-drawn illustration of a motivation or mantra to add to their vision board.

As part of the #AloneTogether campaign, the network is also participating in Facebook Watch parties every Tuesday and Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. EST, featuring a back-to-back watch party of two Aerial America episodes together that engage fans with state-by-state trivia.

More from the ViacomCBS Newsroom:


“Reaching young people is such an important part of this. We know how strong their voices are.”

Millennials and Gen Z for the most part have been raised on the internet with information readily available at their fingertips. Now, with the coronavirus crisis unfolding around the world, they’re scrolling through their feeds looking for brands who are making a social impact, not serving them ads for sandals or sunglasses.

Young people ages 13-24 care about brands that care—85% agree “brands or companies who participate in social issues earn my respect” and 85% say “it’s important for brands and companies to play a bigger role in social issues today,” according to ViacomCBS Global Consumer Insights’ 2020 “Youth Decoded” study. With that information, brands are beginning to market less to consumers at this difficult time and prioritize creating resources and providing sources of entertainment.

“We see unique campaigns that have been very quickly pulled together to address the concerns and the needs of young consumers, and some brands are doing that in really creative ways. With young consumers stuck at home, obviously, there’s a desire for connection,” says MaryLeigh Bliss, VP of content for YPulse, a youth market research company. Bliss noted campaigns like Chipotle’s digital lunch parties labeled “Chipotle Together,” or how Netflix is carrying films that won’t be released in theaters due to government shutdowns of movie theaters, like Paramount Pictures’ The Lovebirds, which was originally slated for a theatrical release on April 2.

“There’s a lot of content being provided, as well as campaigns, that are really aimed at connecting young consumers when they’re feeling very isolated,” she added.

ViacomCBS is working around production hiatuses with unique digital content and linear marathons. The company also launched a PSA titled #AloneTogether in partnership with the Ad Council, which is airing across linear and digital and features messages from company talent like Trevor Noah and Pauly D. Nickelodeon launched its own version centered on children, titled #KidsTogether, which features content from its characters teaching kids how to socially distance and wash their hands properly.

“In these moments of uncertainty, we truly get to see the power of our brands, platforms, and reach in keeping our communities informed, entertained, and connected,” said Crystal Barnes, SVP of corporate social responsibility and environmental, social, and governance strategy and reporting at ViacomCBS. “Reaching young people is such an important part of this. We know how strong their voices are. And as we try to stop the spread of COVID-19, our social and talent-led public service campaign, #AloneTogether, is just one of the ways we’re engaging them.”

Marketing During Crisis

“People don’t want to be marketed to. That’s not a generational thing,” says 20-year-old Madison Bregman, founder of GirlZ, a Gen Z marketing company which serves clients like the NFL, Chipotle, Big Lots, and Taco Bell.

“Now is a great time for brands to be sort of trying stuff and putting out content because a lot of us are spending more time than ever watching Netflix and watching YouTube,” she says. “If you can put out a great story, then your brand will be okay.”

Bregman said that there’s a lot of information circulating right now and for brands, it’s important to be forthright with information, but not overbearing. The problem, she adds, is that there is so much news and it’s constant. Lighthearted content and entertainment that will keep people occupied is what many people are after right now, she says.

Bliss learned from ongoing research that young consumers continually look to brands for comfort, mainly through content. “They intentionally use content to treat their moods, their feelings. And this has really, as a crisis, has amplified that behavior for sure,” she says.

For Ziad Ahmed, a fellow member of Gen Z who runs his own Gen Z marketing business, JUV Consulting, it goes back to the idea that brands should take a stance. He says young people want to see brands acting like humans rather than corporations. About 56% of those 18 and up said they are pleased to hear about brands taking actions like donating goods and services, according to research by the 4As on March 18 and 40% they want to hear what brands are doing in response to COVID-19.

“People want to see brands just doing the right thing, like companies offering free internet and free video conferencing, and companies implementing full paid sick leave if they haven’t already,” he says.

Focusing on Mental Health

According to Bliss, preliminary YPulse research has shown an enormous shift in young people’s attitude toward mental health in the wake of COVID-19. Two weeks ago, 33% of those ages 13-39 felt anxious about the coronavirus crisis—and one week later, the percentage had jumped to 51%. Overall, 93% of young people surveyed said they were impacted in some way by COVID-19.

These unprecedented responses have led brands to respond by placing a focus on mental health resources and support. Social media channels like Snapchat. Twitter, and Instagram have implemented tools, information, and support to navigate the situation. Social media mental well-being is important for young people especially, as it’s where they are finding most of their news and how they keep informed, according to Bliss.

For MTV News, which reaches an audience made up of millennials and Gen Z, the organization was sure to create content and address concerns surrounding mental health that was now amplified in the wake of the crisis.

“We have a lot of stories coming up in which young people are telling us how they’re feeling about their mental health, how they’re trying to be proactive in this moment. MTV News is distilling all the resources together in one place to help them figure out what the best tools are for them so that they can navigate this new normal together,” says Ella Cerón, director of social impact for MTV News.

Ahmed, who left his junior year at Yale to return to his parents’ home in New Jersey, says many college students aren’t privileged enough to be in a situation like his and this is an incredibly stressful time for them.

“This is an unprecedented moment in terms of our economy, our healthcare, our mental health, our academics. The infrastructure that young people have been accustomed to in terms of going to school every day, seeing our friends, planning for the next thing is gone. We don’t know if we can plan for anything. We don’t know what tomorrow looks like.,” Ahmed said. “For many of us, this is a very confusing and fraught moment in our lives.”


More Nick: Nickelodeon Launches #KidsTogether--A Global Prosocial Initiative to Help Kids and Families Stay Informed and Engaged With Activities; Noggin to be Offered Free to Kids in Need in Partnership with National Head Start Association and First Book
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