Bakish: Today’s Viacom, Focused on Execution, Delivering Progress

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

On Tuesday, Viacom President and CEO Bob Bakish sat down with Activision Blizzard Studios Co-President Stacey Sher for a panel moderated by Fortune’s Andrew Nusca at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech Conference in Aspen, Colorado. The topic was “the future of entertainment,” and Bakish delivered a broad overview of how Viacom not only fit into that future, but was actively shaping it with a focused strategy, an invigorated leadership team, and a series of initiatives to broaden and modernize its business.

Here are a few highlights from Bakish’s remarks, emphasizing how Viacom is repositioning itself to thrive as an independent company within a rapidly changing and consolidating industry. You can watch the full remarks below.

Step 1: have a plan

“I was given the opportunity to run Viacom roughly a year and a half ago. I’m a big believer in you have to have a plan. … We rolled out a plan. Plan had number of elements to it, probably central to it, which will relate to our conversation, was this notion of flagship brands. That had to do with prioritization and true multi-platform expression. … The other thing was you need to have a killer management team. It’s another place where the company hadn’t changed much. Made significant changes on the network side of the business, really completely overhauled the Paramount team from the top down, and then we got to work executing. If you look at what’s happened in the quarters since, I describe Viacom as not a light switch, but a story of incremental progress against a destination.”

Step 2: execute

“If you look at our U.S. networks and audience share, you’ll see that we’ve consistently grown audience share. You look at a brand like MTV, which had a ratings decline in the ten percent for five years running. Now, five quarters in, we’ve consistently grown ratings every quarter. That’s a function of a different strategy and a different team and focusing on execution.”

As competition grows, Viacom benefits by building upon its content production expertise – and profiting off this competition by producing their content

Again, with what we call the tech companies coming in, do you have some incremental competition? Yes, you do. But at the same time you have a series of demand that needs to be filmed. Take Paramount Television, which is the television production side of Paramount. It didn’t exist four years ago. Today, or this fiscal year, it’ll do $400 million of revenue and it’s producing hits. It’s producing hits like 13 Reasons Why for Netflix, like The Alienist for the Turner networks, like the upcoming Jack Ryan series for Amazon, which will drop at the end of August. There’s fantastic opportunity to feed that ecosystem. At the same time, we look at our IP that we’re developing in house and we do think about, “Is this better as a linear network show on an owned and operated network, i.e., I don’t know, Nickelodeon, or is it better as a studio production, branded studio production for a third-party platform?”

Continue to drive growth through great content – both with new ideas and iconic IP

… we are mining franchises. Part of it is, sure, we’re creating new product that didn’t exist before. If you look at Paramount as an example, you have a film like A Quiet Place. Different idea, great characters in it, great storytelling, great execution, including focusing on how much it cost to make, and a great result. You also have a film like Mission: Impossible, which premiered in Paris last week, will open in the U.S. in two weeks. It is really an extraordinary film. … Yesterday, we announced that we’re taking the Rugrats franchise. It’s probably a franchise most of you have heard about. Nickelodeon franchise. We’re bringing that back in a new iteration, both for feature film and for episodic video, i.e. television, and we’ll do a whole bunch of digital native stuff. It no doubt will show up in our experiential space as it comes to life. It’s really mining those opportunities, pursuing some different business models, but making sure consumers have access and using that combination to ultimately drive growth, which is at the end of the day what I’m focused on, which is making Viacom once again grow.

Embrace technology to drive growth

At the same time, we’re using an extraordinary amount of technology in the, I’ll call it, monetization space. For example, when you look at advertising sales or what we’ve historically called advertising sales, Viacom is at the forefront of data-driven advertising in television. … Starting a year and a half ago, in every affiliate renewal we did, and we’ve renewed or extended well over half the sub-base in the U.S. by now, we incorporated the provision for dynamic ad insertion. We’re now able to insert dynamically in 90 percent of [video-on-demand] homes in the U.S. and in the two largest cable operators in the U.S. in a portion of the national avails.

Operate at (the appropriate) scale

[In answer to a question from Fortune’s Adam Lashinksky: The conventional wisdom is that Netflix, Apple, Amazon, are spending billions and billions of dollars, and therefore you and others your size can’t compete. Do you think that conventional wisdom is wrong? If so, why or how?]: “Yeah, I think it is wrong. The reason I’ll say that is it’s overly simplistic. Because if you think of scale, which is at the root of a lot of these arguments, there’s plenty of examples of scale where there’s actually no value to the combination. We see that today in some assets that own both media assets and distribution, but there isn’t really a lot of crossover. Look, I’d say is there scale or is there relevant scale. The other thing is, and I learned this because I ran our business outside the U.S. for 10 years … Those are places where we had a one percent share, so we didn’t have scale. We had to figure out how could we act like we had more scale? Those were doing things like partnering and creating ad sales, houses, and the like. That’s creating virtual scale. In a world where, yes, people are spending extraordinary amounts of money … By the way, we spent about five billion dollars on content, so we’re not exactly irrelevant in that regard, and we have relationships with leading creatives in front of the screen, behind the screen, in feature film, in episodic television, and, yes, in digital native. … I think there is an opportunity to be more nimble in this regard and not be vertically integrate and, frankly, serve a lot of different demand.

In an unpredictable, changing landscape, the only thing you can do is execute

[Answering the moderator’s question of whether Viacom would be independent a year from now]: “Who knows what the future will bring? My guess is, yes, we will be independent a year from now. We’re certainly executing in that regard. We definitely have the full support of our board. We’re talking about a number of interesting ideas, both organic and inorganic, but we’ll just have to see how the whole ecosystem plays out.”

“We’ve Made a Lot of Progress at Viacom” – CEO Bob Bakish Touts Achievements at MoffettNathanson

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Growing viewership, building new management teams, finding efficiencies, delivering content on next-generation platforms. Viacom President and CEO Bob Bakish sat down with Michael B. Nathanson at last week’s MoffettNathanson Media & Communications Summit in New York City, where they discussed these and other ways that Viacom is strategically positioning itself to thrive in a rapidly evolving media landscape.

“I fundamentally believe we’ve made a lot of progress at Viacom in the last year or so,” Bakish said. “That starts with having a plan and laying it out for our teams, our employees, and quite frankly, the rest of the industry and the financial community. … For the last couple of quarters, we’ve seen consistent share growth, including in the last quarter. And in fact, we’re seeing improvement relative to last quarter and the current quarter we’re in. So that’s clear progress.”

Additional highlights from the conversation are below. Listen to the full exchange here.

Next-generation platforms and solutions are driving a huge potential growth market for Viacom

Viacom Digital Studios, announced late last year and launched in earnest at the recent Newfronts in New York, is just getting going, but has already stoked strong digital consumption, with video views up 110 percent year-over-year last month. This is just one part of a broad suite of digital initiatives – from vMVPD (virtual multichannel video programming distributor) distribution over Sling and DIRECTV NOW to deals with Telfonica (across Latin America), Telkomsel (Indonesia) and other mobile providers – that is positioning Viacom to evolve with its increasingly digital-first fanbase.

“So when we talk about next generation, we’re talking about vMVPDs. We’re talking about OTT (over the top). We’re talking about sort of AVOD (audio/visual on demand), in front of the wall, social, et cetera. And we have initiatives going in all of those spaces. And the reason we’re in all of those spaces is we believe that’s a very powerful complement to what we’re doing in the traditional space and is critical to driving growth.”

New management is driving ratings growth across the core television business

MTV is riding an unscripted boom to 10 straight months of ratings growth under network President Chris McCarthy, while ratings are up at BET behind a scripted programming push and at Comedy Central as Trevor Noah solidifies himself as a major voice in late-night.

“So, I feel good about our trajectory there, and in fact, again, when you met with advertisers and we did dinners with each of the agency holding companies over the last three weeks or so … what we typically heard … was, ‘wow, you guys made a lot of sort of promises and commitments when we saw you last year … And we were somewhat skeptical but it’s really incredible how far you’ve come and seeing these brands and we’re very excited about your upcoming slates,’ as are we, by the way,” Bakish said.

Paramount Pictures’ new management team is turning the studio around…

Under Chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos, the iconic movie studio has installed a new management team and reoriented its slate so that half of its films are co-branded with Viacom’s media networks. With A Quiet Place – the first film produced, marketed and distributed under the new team – rolling out to more than $300 million in worldwide box office receipts (so far), on a $20 million budget, the studio has plenty of momentum moving into the summer.

“And if you look at Paramount, we have a plan that management is totally bought into that is about, that addresses some of our historical problems and our historical problems were a slate construction that didn’t make sense, was not balanced, didn’t leverage the assets Viacom had and then frankly poor execution,” said Bakish “… look at the branded films, the first one in this kind of era is going to be a BET film shot by Tyler Perry [starring Tiffany Haddish] … That’s a film that we made at a very attractive price point, and it’s going to benefit from the BET brand, and that’s why Tyler came and left a perfectly good existence at Discovery and Lionsgate to unify his content output with Viacom … So we are going to rapidly take share, it’s going to be profitable share and we’re going to combine that with our television business and that’s going to take us back very quickly to a very nice business.”

…while the Paramount TV production studio evolves into a premium content force

With 19 network projects in the pipeline and hits such as Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why and TNT’s The Alienist stamping the studio’s premium content credentials, Paramount Television is expected to deliver $400 million in fiscal 2018 revenue.

“When suddenly Viacom split with CBS, the TV production went with CBS and therefore we had a kind of naked film-only studio, which is not a good place for a studio to be because very lumpy,” Bakish said. “Television tends to kind of flatten out the volatility year-to-year, as well as, of course add value. … Paramount is rapidly being appreciated as a place that makes hits in television too.”

Read More

“We’re Focused on a Return to Growth,” Bob Bakish Tells Deutsche Bank Conference

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Viacom President and CEO Bob Bakish sat with analyst Bryan Kraft at the Deutsche Bank Media, Telecom and Business Services Conference in Palm Beach, Florida last week. In an extended Q&A session, Bakish outlined Viacom’s wide-ranging growth initiatives, from sophisticated advanced advertising products, to the opportunities in mobile distribution, to the company’s strength outside of the United States.

“We spent 2017 really stabilizing the business, and now we’re focused on a return to growth,” Bakish said. “… We articulated a three-part plan associated with that, growing share and margins in our core business, accelerating our participation in next-generation platforms and solutions, and unlocking opportunities with synergies to the core that are outside of traditional media revenue streams.”

While Bakish looked firmly toward the future, he also summarized a few of Viacom’s many recent successes: MTV is in its 10th consecutive month of growth; BET’s ratings streak stands at three straight quarters; Paramount Network launched to both critical acclaim and ratings success in January; ratings at CMT, TV Land and VH1 continue to be strong.

Here are a few more highlights from Bakish’s conversation. You can listen to the full Q&A session here.

Viacom’s diverse demographics + diverse ad products = enormous opportunity

“… all our constituencies have embraced the flagship strategy and certainly that’s true in the ad community. We’re in a very enviable position in that we serve the full spectrum of demographics, really from preschoolers all the way up to, as I said, 25-54s. … But importantly, what you have to realize about our ad business is, yes, it’s partially ads or majority ads on linear television networks … but it’s also our advanced advertising business. And that’s around instilling data-driven approaches and alternate kind of orbits versus [potential] truck [purchasers] versus men 18 to 34 in a television-centric environment, and then all the way up through actual dynamic ad insertion, which is another element we’ve added as we’ve redone our MVPD deals this year [so that] we have access to insert at the consumer level.”

A cornerstone strategy drives growth internationally

“… [Viacom’s international cornerstone strategy] started with our creation of our joint venture in India, which we did in 2007, where we went on to launch a brand called Colors and sitting here today, it’s the number one. … We then went on to acquire Channel 5 in the UK about five years ago. That’s been a homerun and we acquired Telefe in Argentina, which is number one broadcaster in Argentina about a year ago and that’s been a homerun. So, you put that all together and you have a company that grew – our international division that grew, earnings, double digits ad revenue, double-digit affiliate revenue, double-digit ancillary revenue in the last quarter and earnings, let’s say very, very strong double digits in the last quarter and continues to be on a … strong track to additional growth.”

Read More

“2018 Is About Reinvention” – CEO Bob Bakish on Viacom’s Growth Initiatives

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Viacom CEO Bob Bakish sat down with Morgan Stanley media analyst Ben Swinburne at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference last week. On a San Francisco stage in front of hundreds of members of the investment community, Bakish outlined how various growth initiatives in the international, mobile, direct-to-consumer, short-form video and live event spaces will complement Viacom’s existing business lines.

“So, if you think of 2017 really as a period of stabilization, revitalization in the company, as we look forward and we’re already hard at work at this and putting points on the board, 2018 is really more about reinvention and driving the company forward as a growth company in the future,” Bakish said.

Here are a few highlights from Bakish’s talk with Swinburne. Listen to the full conversation here. 

Viacom’s future is mobile

“And then the thing that’s really exciting really longer term, but not much longer term is the mobile space, and that’s the incremental category that will invert the whole argument. In the last quarter, we did a first of its kind deal with Telefónica in Latin America where we licensed all of our flagship brands that are in Latin America to their Movistar Play, the first-of-its-kind deal for them too, so that those services will be available to all their mobile television subscribers. … We’re also in a very interesting conversation in the U.S. right now about bringing our brands to mobile and I believe that will happen in fiscal 2018 as well. And if you can think about all the time spent on mobile and all those devices out there, I think you quickly realize what a powerful growth engine that will be for our business.”

Viacom’s content library is coming directly to consumers

“… later in the year, you’ll hear about the products we’re going to launch that leverages those assets … which we’re going to implement on direct-to-consumer basis in a differentiated way that we believe leverages not only our library assets, but also our ad sales capabilities and its complementary to what we’re doing in MVPD [Multichannel Video Program Distributors] space.”

Viacom’s growth initiatives could generate hundreds of millions of dollars in near-term value

“… we’re actively growing our participation in … the digital-native side, the Consumer Products side and the live events side, think of those as three different tracks, all complementary to the brand and to our financials. We think that is hundreds of millions of dollars of near-term value.”

Every flagship brand will have a live U.S. event

“Again, the events space in this fiscal year, every flagship brand [Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., MTV, BET, Comedy Central, Paramount Network], will have an events in the U.S. That is something that was not true before. So, that’s Nickelodeon, that’s Comedy Central … So, that’s an important incremental activity and one that consumers and advertisers and for that matter, talent, like.”

Viacom’s relationship with distributors continues to improve

“We’ve got this Advanced Ad product we can bring to the table to increase the value of some of your local avails, and we really did turn a new page,” Bakish said of settling on a deal to return Viacom to Altice. “So, we’re sitting here today in a much better place vis-à-vis distribution. We don’t have any large near-term – any large MVPD deal up in fiscal 2018. And by the way, we’ve been improving our product. … I think people are starting to understand that it’s differentiated and that it is valuable. … And you put those things together both in the U.S. and certainly globally, that will be a growth platform.”

International continues to grow rapidly

“[Viacom International Media Networks] is a business that in the last quarter grew ad sales, affiliate sales, ancillary sales, double-digits. It’s a business that grew the bottom line strong double-digits. And it’s not weighted to any one particular thing, it’s driven by our, let’s call it global or in this case ex-U.S. portfolio of brands, MTV, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, Paramount Network and it’s driven by our local cornerstones, which include Channel 5 in the UK, which is an acquisition we did a couple of years ago, which transformed our business there. … That includes our other local cornerstone which we acquired. Last thing I did in International, Telefe, which is the number one broadcaster in Argentina, which is a story in its own way, which maybe we will come back to, but that’s an incredible asset and really makes us – positions us to be a major player in Spanish language content which we have not historically been, but we are quickly becoming. And so, the combination of those global brands and the local cornerstones is what’s driving the growth.”

“This Continues to Be an Extremely Undervalued Company” – Six Highlights from Bob Bakish’s UBS Global Media & Communications Q&A

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Viacom CEO Bob Bakish attends the Ribbon Cutting for the new Viacom Building on January 26, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Todd Williamson/Getty Images)

Viacom CEO Bob Bakish appeared onstage at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference yesterday in New York City, where he spoke to media and telecommunications analyst John C. Hodulik.

Bakish discussed the financial improvements surfaced in Viacom’s recent earnings report, the strength of Paramount’s film and television studios, flagship network highlights, and his optimism about the growth opportunities available through multi-platform distribution, live events, and other streams.

In his remarks, Bakish crystalized several key points about Viacom’s operations. Six of the most important are pulled out below. Click here to listen to the full conversation.

1) Viacom is a global cross-platform content engine

“And as we pivot and look to 2018, what we’re really focused on – and people think about Viacom and they say, ‘you’re a pay-TV company.’ And it’s true that we have a substantial business base in pay television. But what Viacom really is, it’s a global content engine across television, across feature film and increasingly across digital-native.”

2) Partnerships are key to growth

“The interesting thing is outside the U.S., in most markets, still today, Viacom is a relatively small player. And so, how do we get the benefits of being a bigger player? And the route to that was through partnership, whether that was partnering with our distributors, on the advertising side. We participated in a whole set of ad sales houses through that time, some of them we run, some of them other people run, some of them were joint ventures but that was all about getting the benefits of scale.”

3) Viacom’s flagship brands remain the priority

“Well, flagships [Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., MTV, Comedy Central, BET and the soon-to-launch Paramount Network] are certainly Viacom’s priority because again we think there’s significant opportunity particularly to grow share there on the network side, as well as broader awareness. As we begin to implement that strategy we certainly remixed our programming investment and moved it towards the flagships, point one. And point two is within the flagships, a brand like MTV, which I’m continuing to be tremendously excited about, there was a place where we put a new team in place, we put a new strategy in place, that strategy was about shifting the programming mix. MTV had gone to a place where it was very invested in scripted programming, which is quite frankly something you can get from a variety of places and it was not really a core association of the brand, so we’ve moved it to a more of an unscripted place, more of a live place.”

4) Viacom is the market leader in advanced advertising

“And by the way, on the advanced advertising space, Viacom is clearly the market leader. We partnered with Fox and Turner to set up OpenAP and we did that so the category can continue to scale, which is a very important thing for us. But we were the leader and we, as far as I know, are the only people doing these type of multi-faceted distribution deals and you’ll see the benefit of those start to come online as we get into 2018 too, and we’re able to unlock some more of this addressable inventory. So I think that is a very exciting road ahead. And again, sets the stage for a much more productive partnership with the MVPDs here in the U.S. and frankly around the world.”

5) 2017 was about stabilization, 2018 is about acceleration

“But as we accomplished really the stabilization of the company and I think that’s the best word, 2017 was about stabilization, 2018 is about acceleration particularly in these newer areas.”

6) Viacom is an undervalued cash machine

“Well, Viacom if you look at 2017, $1.5 billion to $1.7 billion in cash flow, durable cash flow, it’s about a 15 percent yield. So, this thing is a significant cash machine. You look at 2017 and we eliminated the big overhang on the business, quite frankly, which was the uncertainty around distribution. We have distribution deals with mid-single digit annual escalators locked in through well past 2020. So we have a secured distribution base and we have these incremental opportunities that are not only ideas on the next-generation platforms and solutions, on incremental revenues beyond the core, they’re not only ideas, they’re businesses we are already in, in 2017 that we are, therefore, know how to operate and can accelerate. So there is a tremendous opportunity ahead. This continues to be an extremely undervalued company.”


Bakish also appeared on CNBC last week. Watch his conversation with Julia Boorstin here.