Viacom taps Brian Robbins to lead Nickelodeon

Brian Robbins, shown in 2012, was named president of Nickelodeon by Viacom on Monday with a mission to guide the entertainment channel into the digital age.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Longtime film and TV producer Brian Robbins has been hired to nudge Viacom Inc.’s popular children’s entertainment channel, Nickelodeon, into the digital age.

Viacom on Monday named Robbins president of Nickelodeon. He is charged with managing the creative and business operations at the channel behind such shows as “SpongeBob SquarePants,” “Dora the Explorer” and “Paw Patrol.” Robbins will report to Viacom Chief Executive Bob Bakish.

Nickelodeon for years has been managed by executives in New York. But, in a departure, Robbins will be based at the network’s creative hub in Burbank — sending a signal that the network is trying to be more welcoming to Hollywood producers, writers and talent agents.


Ratings at the cable channel are down about 20% this year compared with last year, according to Nielsen data.

Nickelodeon still is television’s No. 1 children’s network, but it has lost millions of young viewers in the last six years as children increasingly watch content provided by such streaming services as, Netflix and YouTube rather than on ad-supported cable channels. The shift has forced Nickelodeon and others to play catch-up.

At Nickelodeon, Robbins will be tasked with reinvigorating the brand to appeal to “a new generation of young audiences, including further bolstering its content pipeline through a mix of new and legacy franchises, and accelerating its push into next-generation platforms and feature film,” Viacom said in a statement.

Robbins has had success developing programming for younger audiences. He directed the 1999 movie “Varsity Blues” and later became a television producer behind such shows as “Smallville,” the Superman prequel for the WB network; “One Tree Hill,” the long-running teen soap on the CW network; and the Disney Channel’s Sonny with a Chance.”

“Nickelodeon is one of our most important and enduring brands,” Bakish said in a memo to staff. “And Brian is a creative powerhouse who has spent his career on the frontlines of our industry, anticipating and driving changes in television, film and digital media.”

In 2012, he founded the online platform AwesomenessTV, which proved adept at attracting young viewers on YouTube — at a time when such legacy channels as Nickelodeon were struggling to figure out a digital strategy. The following year, Robbins sold AwesomenessTV to DreamWorks Animation, which sold a 24.5% stake in the company to Verizon Communications in 2016 for a reported $159 million. DreamWorks Animation was acquired by Comcast Corp. later that year, and Robbins left the company in early 2017.

Last summer, Comcast and its minority partners sold AwesomenessTV to Viacom for a fraction of its 2016 valuation.

At Nickelodeon, Robbins takes over for longtime Nickelodeon chief Cyma Zarghami, who stepped down in June.

“I’m thrilled to return to Nickelodeon and draw on its many strengths — including its rich library and rapidly growing studio production business — to deliver must-see content to kids on every platform around the world. During this time of upheaval in big media, I can’t wait to disrupt the disrupters,” Robbins said in a statement.

Earlier this year, Robbins was named president of Paramount Pictures’ Paramount Players division, where he was charged with developing programming that could be developed into feature films. Among his various film credits are Disney’s “Wild Hogs” and “The Shaggy Dog,” and DreamWorks’ “Norbit.”

Viacom said that in his new role, Robbins would remain involved in the creation, production and marketing of all Nickelodeon co-branded films, including “Dora the Explorer” and “Rugrats” projects.

Paramount Pictures, on Melrose Avenue, plans to search for a new head for Paramount Players. In the meantime, Wyck Godfrey, president of Paramount Pictures’ motion picture group, will oversee day-to-day operations of the group.

Shares in Viacom, which is controlled by the Sumner Redstone family, declined 3.9%, or $1.30, to $32.46 on Monday. The stock is up 11% this year on speculation that the company may eventually be merged with CBS Corp.

Twitter: @MegJamesLAT


3:45 p.m.: This article has been updated to include more background on AwesomenessTV and Viacom’s stock price.

This article was first published at 12:30 p.m.