“People look at us as a pay-TV company. But we’re a content company,” he said.
Given the drive to unlock value in the media sector, and the resulting swirl of merger possibilities, it’s worth noting that Bakish did not get any questions about M&A, nor did he hold forth on the topic. While the concept of the company reuniting with CBS was revived in 2016, the proposal withered as parties disagreed on terms.
Reprising many of the themes of last month’s quarterly earnings report, Bakish emphasized Viacom’s efforts to repair relationships with distributors; the remaking of Paramount under Jim Gianopulos; and positive results from the company’s focus on a handful of core TV networks.
Investors have remained skeptical of the comeback narrative, pushing Viacom shares down more than 20% year to date. They are so far flat for the day.
Paramount’s entry into the TV space is a key sign of the studio’s progress after a slump, Bakish argued. “Sure, it’s had a couple of rough years. But it’s a scarce resource. It’s a valuable resource.”
The studio’s TV production revenue in 2017 tripled compared with 2016, thanks to shows like USA’s Shooter and Epix’s Berlin Station. “One of the things that’s happening at Paramount is that the Hollywood community wants to be at Paramount,” Bakish said. “That’s a very good thing for a creative company.”
He acknowledged the decline in quality of the slate and the development pipeline in recent years, but said Gianopulos, who came aboard earlier this year after a long run at Fox, was making the right moves. “The reality is that it takes a while for a slate to come to life,” he said. “There’s a lot of great stuff going on.” On the cost side, he projected “hundreds of millions” in profitability improvement in fiscal 2018 due to cost-savings initiatives put in place by Gianopulos.
Bakish’s predecessor, Philippe Dauman, was known for his especially bruising style of negotiating carriage deals, and as a result the company lost subscribers and faced grueling renewals. “A lot of our relationships were frayed,” Bakish said. “So we went to work.” A new agreement with Altice USA is a recent example of the results of the approach, he added.