“In a competitive world it’s all about searching for advantage,” he told the Deutsche Bank Media & Telecom Conference. And he believes that will come from the plans he has outlined to have Viacom’s core cable networks — including Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., BET, Comedy Central and MTV — collaborate in developing movies, as well as spinoff TV series.
Disney “spent significant capital” to buy Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm, but “essentially now they run a defined slate,” the CEO says. “We have an analogous opportunity with a different set of assets. … That will help people understand what types of projects we’re looking for and will help us differentiate those projects in terms promotional support we’re able to give them.”
He also wants to hang on to talent. He noted, for example, that Amy Schumer, who had a hit with Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer, “went on and did a film with Universal.” Same thing with Jordan Peele, of Comedy Central’s series Key & Peele, who went to Universal for his recent film Get Out.
“There’s significant opportunity” at Viacom to run operations “not as a set of silos,” Bakish says.
There’s no word yet on a potential replacement for Brad Grey, who left Paramount last month. But the CEO says that ”we’re well along in bringing on board the next set of leadership, which should come together in the very near future.”
Discussing his brand and talent-building plans, Bakish noted that he has taken Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Trevor Noah off of Hulu, and added a second airing of the show at midnight on BET.
That’s “a non-overlapping audience” that adds a 1.7 rating to the nightly total for The Daily Show, he says.
What’s more, taking the show off of Hulu helped to reassure Viacom’s cable and satellite distributors who had been upset that “we were putting a lot of product on [subscription VOD],” he says.
Bakish is on a campaign to make peace with traditional distributors; some small ones, led by Suddenlink and Cable One, said that their profits improved after they dropped Viacom’s networks.
To that end, the exec says he sees an opportunity to sell distributors’ local ad inventory using targeting data from the Viacom Vantage product. “There’s definitely interest there,” he says.
Bakish says he’s also determined to make Viacom’s debt investment grade — a rating that would make it safe for colleges, retirement plans and other risk-averse funds. The company wants to reduce its $11.9 billion in net debt.
“Our metrics currently aren’t investment grade,” he says. But he will unveil a restructuring plan “to go after operating costs.”
“We’re well along on that plan on the network side of the business, and that’s something we’ll act on in the second calendar quarter,” he says. “And we’re at the beginning stages of that in the film side of the business.”
He also will sell what he calls non-strategic assets. Although Bakish won’t identify them, “you will see in the very near future that we’ll exercise on that strategy.”
Meanwhile, Viacom plans to open more destinations similar to the Nickelodeon hotel that opened last year in the Dominican Republic’s resort town of Punta Cana this year. The next one will open in the Mexican Riviera.
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