The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have devastating effects on the world and has directly impacted our employees, partners and audiences. At ViacomCBS, we shut down our offices and productions early in the crisis to keep people safe.
We pivoted quickly to create #AloneTogether and streamline support across our organization for specific partners. We put together virtual volunteer opportunities for our employees to help and donated our IP to create masks. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve sought ways to partner with our communities, support our audiences and empower our employees to lend a hand.
Protecting Our Communities
Using our resources, know-how and ingenuity to help others is the heart of our culture, and this year has brought out the best in all of us as we worked to come together in support of our communities.
In March 2020, ViacomCBS committed $100 million to help support those impacted by COVID-19, including eligible non-staff employees on ViacomCBS productions, as well as through third parties like the Motion Picture & Television Fund’s Emergency Relief Fund and The Actors Fund’s Entertainment Assistance Program.
In the first months of the pandemic, ViacomCBS employees acted quickly, always thinking: How can we help? We created a cross-network collective working hand in hand to help our shows identify, facilitate and streamline integrations with rapidresponse nonprofits across the globe. A few ways we mobilized:
- We scoured our production sets for personal protective equipment (PPE) that could be donated to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. The Paramount Pictures studio services team collected and aggregated PPE from productions like NCIS that healthcare and frontline workers could use in the fight against COVID-19. In March 2020, Magnum PI and Hawaii Five-0 donated all their PPE to Queens Hospital in Hawaii, and the Paramount Television Studios production of Station 11 donated PPE, equipment and other supplies to the Chicago Department of Public Health in April 2020.
- At the height of the pandemic, First 5 LA, a nonprofit child-advocacy organization, had 50,000 extra diapers in their warehouse, but had no way to get them into the hands of needy families. Paramount Pictures called on our studio transportation team to deliver the diapers to local organizations serving families in need.
- We made face masks with imagery from across our brand portfolio, including the Star Trek franchise and programs across MTV and CBS, available for purchase, with proceeds going to charities that aligned with each brand. For example, Nickelodeon donated its intellectual property (IP) for kids’ masks, which, combined with all of the ViacomCBS mask proceeds, resulted in $3.6M for Save the Children.
- Rather than have billboards from halted productions go unused, Paramount Pictures donated the prominent advertising space to nonprofit partners. The Community Coalition of South Los Angeles used this new space to promote South LA Power Fest, a virtual festival featuring key details on how to vote early, vote by mail and be informed on important ballot initiatives in Los Angeles.
Celebrating Milestones in a New Way
We used our creative strengths to find new, safe ways to celebrate important milestones. On November 10, 2020, Pluto TV hosted the virtual NYC USMC Birthday Gala, a tribute to the 245th anniversary of The Marine Corps. The event provided an opportunity for Marines across the U.S.—many of whom would not have been able to join an in-person event—to participate in the festivities from the safety of their own homes.
Learning To Live #AloneTogether
In addition to adapting our approach to producing content, pivoting our workforce to be predominantly remote and putting new employee assistance programs in place, we also used our content and brands to support viewers as they process the challenges of living through a pandemic.
In March, we partnered with the Ad Council to launch the #AloneTogether campaign. The initiative drove awareness about the importance of social distancing while reinforcing social solidarity. Viewers in the U.S. were encouraged to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations for beating the virus while fostering a sense of unity.
We also brought #AloneTogether in-house as a campaign for our employees to connect with each other during the pandemic. People across the globe shared videos of themselves responding to questions like why diversity and inclusion are so important, where they’re working from home and what tips they have to transitioning to work from home effectively.
The social amplification of #AloneTogether is part of an ongoing conversation with our viewers. Our brands adapted the campaign with their talent and for their audiences:
- Comedy Central launched My Beautiful Bunker, a series featuring comedian Hanna Dickinson, and developed original programming. This notably includes a spin-off of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, The Daily Social Distancing Show, which launched on digital before moving to linear.
- CBS launched #InThisTogether, a campaign featuring personal videos from CBS Entertainment, All Access, News and Sports stars comforting fans with messages that focus on social distancing, community and the power of entertainment.
- Nickelodeon created #KidsTogether as a spinoff of the #AloneTogether campaign. Delivered in 14 languages for kids and families around the world featuring Nick stars and talent—like Spongebob Squarepants, Bubble Guppies and The Casagrandes—it provided tips on staying healthy and suggested activities to do at home.
- AwesomenessTV developed the “ATV Guide to Being Stuck at Home,” which helped GenZers keep calm and quarantine on.
- At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, ViacomCBS International Studios partnered with Fremantle on a short-form series using user-generated content to provide an intimate window inside how people around the world were coping with the crisis. People from over 80 countries submitted videos for the series, as Balcony Stories celebrated the humanity, strength, connectivity and positivity of people in lockdown.
Saving Our Selves
BET stepped in to support Black communities disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, providing financial, educational and community support directly to the communities most impacted. Among the initiatives launched in response to the pandemic was Unmasked: A COVID-19 Virtual Town Hall Series, a four-part virtual town hall series in partnership with NAACP featuring leaders in public health, congressional members, activists and more. The series focused on the health, emotional, economic toll, and how communities and activists are working to ensure legislation is equitable.
Additionally, BET engaged United Way Worldwide to establish a relief fund for those most impacted by the health and financial implications of COVID-19. With the help of several foundations and corporations, and support from a network of Black business leaders, BET raised nearly $19 million, allowing more than 50 partner organizations to provide immediate and timely relief to more than 2.5 million people across the country.
The Saving Our Selves: BET COVID-19 Relief Effort aired April 22 and featured an array of talent from the best of Black Hollywood and music, including Alicia Keys, who performed a thrilling tribute to her hometown of New York City, and special appearances by Whoopi Goldberg, Diddy, Fat Joe, Remy Ma and other New Yorkers.
Queer To Stay
The team at SHOWTIME approached the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) with an idea to establish and administer a pool of funds to support LGBTQ+ businesses that had been negatively impacted by COVID-19.
The concept was tailored to specifically serve multiply-marginalized LGBTQ+ communities—transgender, LGBTQ+ women and LGBTQ+ people of color—with special consideration given to businesses also owned by members of these communities. Over 100 applications were received for the 10 awards we distributed.
MTV Shuga Alone Together, A Self-Shot Series
The MTV Staying Alive Foundation, in partnership with UNITAID and the UN’s ‘Every Woman, Every Child’, created a 70-part daily web-series of MTV Shuga to raise awareness in the fight to flatten the COVID-19 curve. Produced remotely over four months at the start of the global lockdown, MTV Shuga Alone Together was self-shot by the actors in their homes and written and directed remotely, led by the renowned Nigerian writer, Tunde Aladese. It is available for streaming on MTV Shuga’s YouTube channel.
Set in Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Cote D’Ivoire, Botswana and the U.S. during the height of the COVID-19 outbreak, the show depicts every aspect of life during the pandemic over several months. MTV Shuga Alone Together educates viewers across the world about how practicing hygienic habits, social distancing and self-isolation are critical to fighting the spread of the coronavirus; it also tackles the less visible impacts of COVID-19, including domestic violence, mental health and reproductive health needs.
According to research by The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, 92% of viewers said that they learned about COVID-19 transmission, 95% learned new protective measures and 85% adopted new behaviors.