“It just goes to show — you never know,” he added. “And we should all focus on enjoying life because sometimes it can pass us by quickly.”
That said, the Viacom chief assured investors that Paramount — under its new head, Jim Gianopulos — “will show sustained improvement.”
Bakish said he picked Gianopulos because “he is a very, very seasoned executive” who “understands all aspects of the business.”
People like that “are in very short supply,” he said. “I know this because I went out and talked to a lot of people. And there are not many people who were available who had that skill set.”
Bakish also liked Gianopulos’ reputation as a straight shooter. “Having a reputation of being able to play it straight, and being somebody you can go back to, is critical to success.” And, finally, the new studio chief “bought into the vision” of releasing several films tied to Viacom’s TV properties in addition to a few Paramount-only tentpoles.
Bakish said people were “standing in line” to run the studio because, despite its recent financial woes, “it has a great history of success.” Viacom plans to “bring back Paramount as a leading studio” but “in a world that has changed a bit.”
“At the end of the day it’s about making great films … attracting ideas, migrating talent that we have relationships with” and taking advantage of Viacom’s global distribution.
He liked what he saw with Universal’s Get Out, which featured Comedy Central veteran Jordan Peele.
“It was made for $4.8 million and grossed $175 million domestically last time I looked,” Bakish says. “That’s the kind of business we should also be in. It’s not all about the tentpoles. It’s about defined kind of stories, taking advantage of relationships and brand reach.”
On the TV side, Bakish assured investors that MTV and other Viacom networks are turning around.
“We’ve lost share because we didn’t program in a way that our viewers were looking for,” he said. For example, five years ago MTV shifted to scripted programming. “None of the research said that’s what people were looking for from the brand– not consumers, not advertisers, not distributors. OK, that can change over time. But what was also clear was that unless you radically increased the amount you were spending, it would crowd out what had historically made you successful” — meaning reality shows.
Now MTV’s new leadership decided a “back to the future strategy made sense.” With more unscripted fare starting to reach the screen, in some demos “we’re starting to grow share, and the decline overall in share is significantly less [in the year from] March to April than it was October to November.”
Bakish also said there’s no need to worry about Viacom’s dispute with Charter Communications — which wants to put some of the entertainment company’s channels on different tiers.
“We have a firm point of view that that is not something they are able to do,” Bakish said. “We are in discussions about that. Hopefully the discussions will resolve it. If they don’t resolve it then we’ll have to take some other form of action.”
But it’s just an issue with Charter, not with other pay TV distributors, he said.
“You’ve got a company that’s going through an integration” following Charter’s acquisition of Time Warner Cable. “They’ve made a decision to tier new subscribers differently; this is all about new subs, not about existing subs.”