One topic that did not come up at all during the 50-minute session was CBS or the recent exit of its longtime chairman and CEO, Les Moonves. CBS, of course, shares a controlling shareholder with Viacom in National Amusements. (The conference format is that a Goldman analyst asks questions during a one-on-one session but takes none from the audience.)
The lack of any CBS talk is not exactly shocking by the standards of Wall Street. Remember, this is the culture that supported CBS conducting an earnings call on August 2 which was led by former CEO Les Moonves as a storm of controversy swirled around the company. No analyst on the call, presumably by prior arrangement, asked about the allegations against Moonves.
Deprived of Topic A, the Bakish session served as an in-between-quarters update without many dramatic elements. He did acknowledge “a lot of noise and activity about consolidation and scale” in the marketplace, but said niche acquisitions such as Awesomeness, Vidcon and WhoSay have been the focus, rather than on larger game-changers.
As far as Paramount, Bakish boasted, “There’s no question that the Mountain is back.” The studio’s “incredible turnaround” is evident in recent financial results and will factor into fourth-quarter numbers, he predicted, as theatrical revenue from Mission: Impossible – Fallout blends with ancillaries from A Quiet Place and Book Club.
In 2019, roughly half of the studio’s releases will be tied with one of the company’s five flagship cable brands (MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, BET and the Paramount Network).
“Paramount is not only back in the television business; it’s a hitmaker,” Bakish said, citing shows like The Alienist on TNT or 13 Reasons Why on Netflix or Jack Ryan on Amazon.
Bakish put a finer point on the company’s plans in the direct-to-consumer arena. “What we’re not doing is developing a mass-market service like Netflix,” he said. “That business is looking more and more crowded and that is a very capital-intensive game.”
Instead, Viacom is committed to “a set of niche services” like its Noggin platform for preschool content.