The Viacom CEO told an investor conference this morning that his company has “a small investment” in the Broadway musical hit from South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker. And although he didn’t directly address a question about whether Paramount might turn The Book Of Mormon into a film, he seemed to indicate that it’s a possibility: “We love working with the two of them,” he said, adding that “we always look for opportunities to work with them.” He made the comments at the Gabelli Best Ideas Conference where, in reviewing Viacom’s operations, he touted recent changes at Paramount. With a strategy designed to minimize risk, he says, “you’ll never see us with a John Carter” — a reference to Disney’s big-budget disappointment this year. He supported the effort to slash Paramount’s production slate from as many as 30 releases a year to about 15 “concentrating on franchise films and our brands…We have been reducing the overhead at Paramount year after year.” He added that “the film business is one where you have to control the cost.”
But he doesn’t seem to want to take that a step further and merge Paramount with another studio — a hot issue in investment circles as the economics of movie-making deteriorate. “A full merger provides one-time benefits but creates other issues,” he said in response to a question. For example, execs could lose their focus if they have to deal with too many different films. He noted, though, that Paramount has collaborated with others — he mentioned Universal Studios — in handling distribution in different territories. As for Paramount’s releases, Dauman says he plans to have at least one animated film a year beginning in late 2014 when the studio releases its SpongeBob SquarePants film. He also talked up World War Z with Brad Pitt, due in mid 2013. And he’s especially high on movies and TV shows that can drive sales of licensed merchandise. “It’s a wonderful, high-margin revenue stream. It’s like clipping coupons,” he says.