Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Bob Bakish Gives Talk at the Royal Television Society's Conference in London

Below are highlights from Viacom CEO's Bob Bakish talk at the Royal Television Society's (RTS) London conference held on Tuesday 18th September 2018.

From The Hollywood Reporter:

Viacom CEO Sees More Upside "Without Consolidation," Is "Not Looking to Create Another Netflix"

Bob Bakish tells the Royal Television Society conference in London that he expects the Paramount Television production business to reach $600 million in revenue next year, and discusses regulation of digital platforms.
Viacom doesn't need a big, transformative deal right now to see further financial and operational upside, CEO Bob Bakish said in London on Tuesday, without discussing the possibility down the line of a long-suggested eventual recombination with corporate sibling CBS Corp.

Speaking at the Royal Television Society conference in the British capital, whose theme this year is "Is Bigger Better?", he reiterated that "we have been working hard…on running the company we have, because we see incremental value to those assets." While acknowledging that there has been "a quest for scale" across the industry, Bakish concluded: "Where I sit today, we have a very clear path to value creation ahead of us.... [There is] a lot of exciting road ahead without consolidation."

Bakish and his team have been making smaller acquisitions and investments to boost the company's digital and live event businesses, something the CEO signaled on Tuesday would remain the focus of any deal making. For example, Viacom this summer struck a deal to acquire youth media company Awesomeness for around $25 million plus some debt, and led a $15 million investment round in kids media startup

Bakish said that overall his team has focused on both "turnaround" and "evolution" efforts, meaning improving core networks, ratings and distribution deals, as well as pushing into new businesses and revenue streams, such as digital and events. “It really is an exciting new chapter in Viacom history," he said.

Bakish's colleague David Lynn, president and CEO of Viacom International Media Networks, in his conference opening remarks said that Walt Disney's $71.3 billion agreement for large parts of 21st Century Fox has been a watershed deal with a "seismic impact" on all others in the business, with many asking if they are big enough and if Rupert Murdoch and Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger feel the need to get bigger. "The answer has been a fresh outbreak of M&A," Bakish said, without discussing his own interest in such megadeals.

Asked about Viacom's thinking on its own potential streaming service or services, Bakish signaled that the company was more focused on niche offerings tied to its core brands, most of which aren't focused on much high-end scripted fare. "We are not looking to create another Netflix," he said. "We see that space as becoming crowded and quite capital-intensive."

Asked about suggestions for regulation of digital platforms, the Viacom CEO noted that there is no level playing field so far. For example, Nickelodeon isn't allowed to show advertising for high-fat, sugar and salt snacks, while "on the digital platforms there is no such regulation," he explained before predicting change. “It’s pretty clear that over time we will get regulation. What it looks like and how quickly it comes are all valid questions. But the world just needs to move in that direction as responsibility follows consumption.”

Bakish also once again touted the broader turnaround of the company's studio, saying "Paramount is in a radically different place" today than when he took over as CEO. Paramount Pictures has improved its performance amid the growing TV production business and a new slate planning approach under studio chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos.

Bakish also again touted the rise of Paramount Television, reiterating that it will this year be a $400 million revenue business before next year reaching $600 million as the studio goes from producing nine to making 16 series. He reiterated that it is shooting to become a $1 billion business in a couple of years. Among the production arm's TV series are the likes of Netflix's 13 Reasons Why and Amazon's Jack Ryan.

While streaming giants are taking consumers’ time, “on the other hand, we are finding great opportunity in supplying them," Bakish said. He added that MTV is likely to unveil over the next week or so a reality show it is making for a streamer other than Netflix.

Bakish did not address a recent settlement between Viacom's parent company National Amusement, led by Shari Redstone, and corporate sibling CBS Corp. that included new board members and a commitment to make no imminent new proposal from NA to merge CBS and Viacom. NA has suggested such a recombination twice so far. CBS Corp. chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves was ousted earlier this month after a new group of women accused him of sexual misconduct. Joseph Ianniello was elevated from his COO role to that of president and acting CEO of CBS Corp. while the board conducts a search for a permanent CEO and chairman.

Viacom's cable network brands, including MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and BET, have been focusing on improving their ratings momentum, which has mostly worked since Bakish was named permanent CEO in late 2016. The company has also been cutting operating costs at its networks unit and focused on six core brands.


Also, via TBI Vision:

Viacom CEO: We are “not looking to create another Netflix”

Viacom boss Bob Bakish has swatted away plans for a Netflix-style platform, while highlighting the business’ production strategy and calling for stronger regulation of SVOD platforms.

Speaking at the Royal Television Society (RTS) London conference on Tuesday (18 September), Bakish, who took the reins at Viacom in 2016, highlighted that he is “not looking to create another Netflix” because “that space is becoming crowded and capital intensive.”

Instead, Viacom will pursue more streamlined and “alternative” direct-to-consumer offerings such as pre-school offering and “niche product” Noggin.

“We see other products that can work in different demographics. We also see the potential to apply an ad-supported front door to that,” he said.

Bakish also highlighted Viacom’s studio production business – which makes Netflix original 13 Reasons Why and Amazon Prime Video’s John Krasinski-fronted Jack Ryan series – noting that the business will double down on its production efforts around the world.

He said that MTV Studios – one of the first in-house productions arms to sit within Viacom’s new studio model – is currently making a reality programme for one of the FAANG players, though he would not specific which platform.

“On one hand, new entrants are taking consumers’ time, but on the other hand, we are finding great opportunity in supplying them,” he said.

He said Viacom will look to “leverage its international assets” – namely production assets in the UK and Argentina, where the business purchased channel Telefe for $345m in 2016.

TBI understands that Viacom is currently looking to invest in more UK production companies.

It currently owns Channel 5’s in-house production arm Elephant House Studios, but is believed to be on the look-out for more indies.

Bakish, who was interviewed by Channel 5 News presenter Sian Williams, also highlighted a double standard around regulation for SVODs and traditional broadcasters.

He noted that while Viacom is not able to advertise certain products on its youth channel Nickelodeon, there is “no such regulation” for SVODs.

“It is clear that over time we will get regulation. The world needs to move in that direction as responsibility follows consumption,” he said.

Bakish could not be drawn on the CBS-Viacom merger, saying only that the business can grow in a number of ways and achieve “virtual scale” without consolidating.

“Where I sit today, there is a clear path to valuation ahead of us,” he said.


Also, via the Financial Times:

Viacom strikes Nickelodeon deal with Netflix

US group to produce exclusive series for streaming service

Viacom, owner of MTV and Paramount Pictures, has struck a deal to produce a new Nickelodeon series exclusively for Netflix, the latest move by chief executive Bob Bakish to push the company into a future beyond traditional television.

While his peers have tried to battle streaming disrupters, Mr Bakish — installed two years ago by billionaire media titan Shari Redstone — is instead betting on co-operation.

Viacom’s deal with the streaming service is the latest in a handful of such experiments the company has made in the past year to reverse its fortunes.

Mr Bakish said the field for Netflix imitators, with traditional media companies launching their own streaming alternatives, was “going to get crowded”. “Look at what Disney is doing. Look at AT&T-Time Warner. It’s unclear what Comcast is going to do,” he said in an interview with the Financial Times. “With all that happening . . . developing a Netflix-like service does not make sense for Viacom.”

Mr Bakish has had his work cut out. Viacom, like its peers, has been hit by a shift from traditional television towards online alternatives, resulting in plunging viewership for storied channels such as MTV. Looming in the background, Viacom’s fate has been clouded by a power struggle between the Redstone family, which owns Viacom and CBS, and Les Moonves, who last week resigned as chief executive of CBS in the wake of sexual assault allegations. 

Ms Redstone has tried to merge Viacom with CBS, but Mr Moonves resisted. With Ms Redstone now firmly in control, analysts speculate that a deal could be back on the cards.

Mr Bakish said he saw “substantial synergies” for a combination with CBS. However he insists that Viacom is not actively looking for large deals. “If I had been distracted by [the deal rumours this year] . . . that would have been a bad thing,” he said. “I said: maybe a deal will get done, maybe it won’t, we’re going to keep focusing on Viacom.”

As part of the settlement agreed last week, several Moonves loyalists have left the CBS board, and the company dropped its lawsuit which attempted to dilute Ms Redstone’s voting power in CBS. The Redstones said they do not plan to propose a merger of CBS with Viacom for two years — but the independent board members are free to push for a deal.

“[CBS] has a new board, that board has to get settled in and they have to decide what they want to do,” Mr Bakish said. “I’m not concerned about my fate,” he said, of the uncertainty about how Ms Redstone will proceed. “In some earlier discussions, people said I wouldn’t have a job. That was fine with me. I’m just focused on Viacom.”

Of the departure of Mr Moonves, one of the most powerful Hollywood executives to lose his job in the #metoo era, Mr Bakish declined to comment. “A lot has been written about that topic,” he said. “I don’t have anything to add.”


Also, via The Irish News:

Viacom CEO says Brexit was ‘big speed bump for all of us'

The CEO of Viacom has said the media giant will not “create another Netflix”.

Bob Bakish, who heads up the company which controls Channel 5, Nickelodeon and MTV, said they will look for profit elsewhere as he spoke at the Royal Television Society (RTS) conference.

He said: “We are not looking to create another Netflix. We see that space as quite crowded.”

Viacom will instead look to provide content for sites such as Netflix and others, he said, adding that “people around the world are looking for content”.

Mr Bakish has said there are opportunities in the changing media landscape, but that the online world needs to “move towards regulation”, particularly for content such as children-centred Nickelodeon.

It's pretty clear that over time we will get regulation - Bob Bakish

There are concerns around product placement in a new world of online advertising, with Mr Bakish adding: “It’s almost exclusively self-regulated, in terms or restricting what we can and can’t do.

“It’s pretty clear that over time we will get regulation.”

In the UK, Mr Bakish said that “Brexit was a big speed bump for all of us”, but said he is excited about the future of Channel 5.

He has indicated that the money saved from the axed Big Brother show will be spent on “more original” programming.

Channel 5 began broadcasting Big Brother in 2011, but announced last week that the current series will be the last one it will air.


Also, from Deadline:

Viacom Eyes $1B TV Production Target As Paramount Television Set For $600M Revenue In 2019

Viacom boss Bob Bakish has set a target for its production businesses, including Paramount Television, to become a billion dollar business over the next few years.

Bakish claimed that the television production division is set to grow from a $400M in 2018 to a $600M in 2019 and has set plans to almost double this in a “few years”.

Speaking at the Royal Television Society London Conference, Viacom CEO Bakish said, “The rise of Paramount Television, which didn’t exist four years ago and this year is a $400M business and next year will be a $600M business going from nine series on air to 16. That rise was very much driven by the rise of the SVOD players with shows like 13 Reasons Why… and Amazon’s Jack Ryan.”

He revealed that it is looking for Paramount to collaborate closely with its existing production divisions at Nickelodeon and MTV to grow the business further. He highlighted Nickelodeon’s Pinky Malinky airing on Netflix and revealed that MTV was making a reality series for another digital SVOD platform.

“We see that [Paramount Television] business as the flagship brands join it being a $1B business in a few years as we leverage some of our international assets such as the production business in the UK and our Telefe unit,” he added.

Paramount Television has had a good run, fresh from launching Maniac on Netflix and is set to launch a raft of high-profile titles in the next twelve months including George Clooney’s Catch-22 for Hulu and a dramatic thriller from Academy Award-nominated director Andrey Zvyagintsev.

Its future will be under Nicole Clemens, who was named President of the company earlier this summer, replacing Amy Powell, who was fired in July over alleged racially insensitive comments.

During the keynote session, Bakish calmly avoided talk of a merger with CBS. When asked directly, he said, “Where I sit today, we have a very clear path to value creation in front of us.

“There’s a lot of discussions about scale in the industry… there is a quest for scale. We’ve been working hard being focused on running the company we have because we see more value there including scale that we had that we weren’t exploiting, such as on the film space with Paramount, we now have a global consumer products business. Thirdly, the opportunity we’re seeing is through what I call the creation of virtual scale, through partnerships,” he added.

While the terms of CBS Chairman and CEO Les Moonves’ exit and the settlement of duelling lawsuits between CBS and controller shareholder National Amusements stipulate that NAI can’t move to merge CBS and Viacom for two years, the companies’ boards could independent pursue deals. Bakish, however, wasn’t giving any hints.


Also, from The Hollywood Reporter:

Bob Bakish on How Disney-Fox Helps Viacom and His Phone Call With CBS Corp.'s Acting CEO

The CEO discusses the company's strategy and turnaround, including the success of Paramount Pictures, and the battle for Sky during a London breakfast meeting with reporters.
Walt Disney's planned $71.3 billion acquisition of vast parts of 21st Century Fox is "a significant positive" for Viacom in multiple ways, Viacom CEO Bob Bakish said in London on Wednesday.

Speaking during a breakfast meeting with reporters in the British capital, organized by the Broadcasting Press Guild, he also discussed the impact of the battle between Fox and Comcast for European pay TV giant Sky on Viacom, the phone call he got from acting CBS Corp. CEO Joe Ianniello, the progress of Viacom's turnaround efforts and how Paramount Pictures is "night and day from where it was."

The Disney-Fox deal "highlights the value of the Hollywood studio," Bakish emphasized during the event. "There aren’t many of them. And this really shows how valuable these assets are." That is particularly important for Viacom as Paramount got "very little value attribution" from Wall Street until recently. "This is an undervalued asset in the company and one that the Fox-Disney transaction certainly highlights," Bakish said.

The mega-deal also provides a "very real opportunity" to hire executive and creative talent in front and behind the screen amid the “dislocation associated with change of ownership," the Viacom boss suggested.

With Disney also expected to keep more of its productions for its own planned streaming service, along with, possibly, AT&T-Time Warner, Viacom will also get a chance to fill the production void on various streaming and other services. "Who will supply all the others?" Bakish asked. “Viacom is very well positioned to do that as a truly global multi-platform content company. ... There are not that many people that can step in, and Viacom is certainly one of those companies." He highlighting the company's "studio capabilities across a variety of formats – film, episodic television and now digital native."

Bakish didn't comment on the benefits of a potential recombination with CBS Corp. down the line. Viacom and CBS controlling shareholder National Amusements, led by Shari Redstone, has promised not to push for a deal for a couple of years under a recent settlement with CBS. "There is not really anything to add at this point," Bakish said in London on Wednesday.

What about Comcast and Fox's battle for European pay TV giant for Sky? "I’m not concerned about a change in ownership other than at some point some kind of management transition, but I’m very confident in the value that we provide here in the U.K.," he said. "We have a long-standing and growing and highly productive partnership with Sky." He said he met with Sky COO and CFO Andrew Griffith on Monday and would Wednesday meet Sky CEO Jeremy Darroch.

Viacom also knows the two suitors Comcast and Fox, plus Disney, which has agreed to buy large chunks of Fox. "We do a lot of business with Comcast in the U.S.” and have "a lot of history" with chairman and CEO Brian Roberts and cable unit boss David Watson, Bakish said.“We have very productive relationships with Comcast.” On the Disney side, "we have less business like that," but Viacom does show some Disney-produced content, he added.

“I believe in scale, it’s valuable," he also said though, mentioning the acquisition of Britain's Channel 5. “We have actually been manufacturing some scale in-house by leveraging our assets together in ways we hadn’t before."

Bakish highlighted that he and his team have been mostly making smaller acquisitions and investments to boost the company's digital and live event businesses and other growth areas though. Viacom this summer struck a deal to acquire youth media company Awesomeness for around $25 million plus some debt and led a $15 million investment round in kids media startup

Asked about Shari Redstone's thinking and role, Bakish said: "She is a great board member. She loves our company. She continues to support the management team and be excited about the road ahead. As to things she is thinking about in her mind, she is a better person to talk to."

Has he talked to acting CBS CEO Ianniello since Leslie Moonves was ousted from the company? “I actually have," Bakish shared with the London press. "It was great. I mean I have known Joe for a long time. He called me and we talked … he was in a new chair, and I had been put in that chair [at Viacom] two years earlier. And what is it like to be in that chair – that was the conversation we had." Bakish didn't share more specifics about the conversation.

Does Moonves, accused of sexual misconduct, deserve an exit package? Bakish declined to comment.

Much of Wednesday's focus was on Viacom's international strategy and how Britain's Channel 5 fits into it. The company had acquired the TV network in 2014 for $725 million and soon led it to record full-fiscal year financials. "We continue to be ahead of our plan despite the Brexit headwind," Bakish said Wednesday.

Channel 5 has been beefing up its original content and will use some of the money saved from the recent decision not to bring back Big Brother on original commissions, he said.

Viacom's cable network brands, including MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and BET, have been focusing on improving their ratings momentum, which has mostly worked since Bakish was named permanent CEO in late 2016. The company has also been cutting operating costs at its networks unit, focused on six core brands and improving its distribution relationships in the U.S.

Plus, the Paramount Pictures film unit has improved its performance amid a growing TV production business and a new slate planning approach under studio chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos.

2018 "was a pretty important year for our company, one where we begun demonstrating there is in fact both a turnaround and an evolution," Bakish told the London reporters on Wednesday in summarizing where the company stands now. 2019 "will be another year of that, probably it will tilt more toward demonstrating that evolution."

And he gave a particular shoutout to the studio unit again. Said Bakish: "Paramount is night and day from where it was, and it has a very exciting road ahead."


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Originally published: Tuesday, September 18, 2018.
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