Viacom was created in 1970 by the CBS television network to handle syndication, the direct sale of individual programs to local stations and cable operations. Federal regulations prohibiting television networks from owning syndication and cable services forced CBS to divide its Viacom stock among CBS shareholders in 1971. Viacom was primarily a cable television provider until National Amusements, a movie theater company, acquired it in 1987. National Amusements' chairman, Sumner M. Redstone, assumed control of Viacom and began expanding the company through high-profile acquisitions to become one of the nation's largest media and entertainment companies.
In 1994, Viacom acquired Paramount, a major motion picture and television studio. Among Paramount's best-known current productions are the "Star Trek" television series and feature films. Paramount also owns five amusement parks in the United States and Canada. Also in 1994, Viacom bought Blockbuster Entertainment Corporation, the parent company of Blockbuster Music and Blockbuster Video. Blockbuster Video is the world's largest chain of videocassette sales and rental stores. Viacom also owns The Spelling Entertainment Group, which produces films and television shows.
Viacom's cable television production ventures are organized into two groups: the MTV Networks (MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite) and the Showtime Networks (Showtime, The Movie Channel, FLIX). Viacom's music-oriented channels, MTV and VH1, have been successful in attracting young audiences and the advertisers who target them. In addition to the United States, MTV also broadcasts in Latin America, Asia, and Europe.
Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite offers children's programming during the day and television shows from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s in the evening. In addition to its daytime children's programs, Nickelodeon provides nighttime programming, called Nick at Night, which is aimed at nostalgic adult audiences. The name of the network refers to early 20th century movie houses that were known as nickelodeons because they charged a nickel for admission. From modest beginnings in 1979, Nickelodeon became one of the leading cable networks in the United States by the mid-1990s.
The Showtime Networks are primarily subscriber-supported channels offering full-length movies uninterrupted by advertising. In addition, Viacom partially owns a number of other cable television channels: the USA Network, the All News Channel, the Sci-Fi Channel and Comedy Central. In 1996, Viacom debuted a second nostalgia television channel, TV-Land.
Simon & Schuster, Viacom's publishing division, is a leading publisher of consumer books that began as a publisher of crossword puzzle collections in the 1920s. The company's imprints (brand names) include Fireside, The Free Press, Pocket Books, Scribner and Simon & Schuster.
They published some of America's best-known novelists, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe and Ernest Hemingway. The company was one of the country's leading publishers of education and reference books until 1998, when these parts of the firm were sold to Pearson PLC, an international media conglomerate. Pearson, in turn, sold the reference division to the private investment firm of Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst.
Viacom has a division devoted to new media, such as interactive software and video games. It also runs its own cable television service, with more than 1 million customers. Since 1994, Viacom has been acquiring independent television stations to provide outlets for its new broadcast network, UPN (United Paramount Network), which debuted in 1995. In 1996, Viacom sold Viacom Cable Television, the 12th-largest cable TV system in the world, to TCI (now part of AT&T).
In September of 1999, Viacom made a complete circuit to its roots when it announced its merger with CBS, one of the largest radio and television broadcasting companies in the United States. The CBS Television Network distributes programming in news, entertainment, sports and feature films to more than 200 independently owned and 14 CBS-owned television stations in the United States, as well as to foreign affiliates. The company owns nearly 170 radio stations in major markets across the country. With this merger, Viacom expanded its empire to become a major media conglomerate.