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Viacom Digital Studios Hires Heather Johns, RJ Larese to Talent and Development Team

Viacom Digital Studios is expanding its talent and development team with two new hires: Heather Johns, formerly with Kevin Hart/Lionsgate’s Laugh Out Loud, and RJ Larese, who hails from Popsugar.

Johns, named VP of talent and development for pop culture, music and lifestyle overseeing talent discovery, talent development, booking, and talent relations for MTV and BET digital brands. Larese, VP of talent and development for comedy and kids, is focused on scouting, talent development, booking and talent relations for Comedy Central and Nickelodeon digital brands.

Both Johns and Larese report directly to Paula Kaplan, Viacom Digital Studios EVP of talent and development and EVP of talent for Nickelodeon. Also reporting into Kaplan are Megan Bycel, senior VP of talent at Awesomeness (which Viacom bought last summer), and Aubrey Bendix, senior director of casting and talent relations who oversees scripted projects at Awesomeness.

“The Talent and Development team at Viacom Digital Studios is fully committed to discovering and developing talent that engages audiences across next-gen platforms,” Kaplan said in a statement. “In expanding the team with Heather and RJ and incorporating the diverse talent pool Megan oversees at Awesomeness, we are uniquely positioned to further pioneer VDS efforts in programming and production for young digital-native consumers.”

Viacom formed VDS, led by president Kelly Day, in late 2017. Viacom Digital Studios encompasses a 300-staffer team that developed over 600 hours of original content in 2018 and struck talent deals including with teen influencer JoJo Siwa.

Johns joins VDS from Laugh Out Loud Network, the Kevin Hart/Lionsgate digital comedy platform, where she was VP of content and business development after serving as executive director of development. While with LOL, she was instrumental in helping launch such as shows as “Cold as Balls” (which has over 120 million views) and “Kevin Hart’s Lyft Legend.” Prior to her tenure at Laugh Out Loud, she was a development executive at GRB Entertainment and Defy Media, and was a talent agent in UTA’s alternative TV department.

At Popsugar, Larese was head of casting and talent overseeing talent for branded and editorial digital content, as well as unscripted TV content. He also booked Popsugar Play/ground, a festival featuring over 65 celebs and influencers including Tiffany Haddish, Mindy Kaling and Kate Hudson.

Bycel, who joined Awesomeness in 2014, leads the talent-relations team that works with digital stars including Liza Koshy, Niki & Gabi, the Merrell Twins, Remi Ashten, and Colleen Ballinger (best known for her Miranda Sings character). She previously served in executive roles at Virtual Greats, Village Roadshow Pictures, Endeavor and Paramount Pictures.

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