Viacom CEO Tells Investors That They’re “Overplaying” Cord-Cutting Fears

Do Big Media CEOs and ordinary investors live in a parallel universe? It increasingly sounds that way — especially this morning when Viacom chief Philippe Dauman described his business and opportunities in unwaveringly upbeat terms at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference.

Many of the Wall Streeters he faced believe that the pay TV business either has topped out or is close to doing so. Their fears were exacerbated in early August when Disney trimmed its pay TV forecasts, acknowledging that ESPN had lost some subscribers.

Viacom’s seen as especially vulnerable as the industry grapples with reports of cord cutting, weak ratings and anemic ad sales. The company’s share price has depreciated 33.6% during the past three months, a far bigger decline than peers including Discovery, Disney, Fox and Time Warner experienced.

Dauman sees the world differently. His presentation and report that ad sales might be “slightly better” this quarter than they were in Q2 helped to lift the stock about 1.8% in midday trading.

When it comes to cord cutting, “people are totally overplaying this,” the Viacom chief told the conference. “There has not been a material acceleration of what’s been a modest decline [in subscriptions] in the last couple of years.”

Indeed, if cable and satellite providers hit the gas pedal for video on demand and TV Everywhere, “I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to stabilize that and have an opportunity to grow.” And when you look at expansion efforts in growing overseas markets, “those with perspective will see that it’s still a vibrant opportunity.”

The CEO also doesn’t fear skinny bundles. “This isn’t a new thing,” he says. Even if they become more popular, programmers can benefit from innovations including dynamic ad insertion — enabling ad buyers to target sales pitches to specific viewers, for a high price. “There’s always a lot of conversation about all these new products.”

Dauman rejects the view that Viacom shot itself in the foot by licensing popular shows including SpongeBob Square Pants to Netflix and other subscription SVOD services. Many believe that the strategy was good for a quick buck but also encouraged young viewers to avoid the company’s core ad-supported channels.

“Overall viewing is increasing,” he says. “We have to be smart, we think we are being smart, about how we window the content.” Viacom’s SVOD revenues have grown. Indeed, “we’ve made more operating income from the category than the players have. … This is our syndication market, if you will.”

Here, too, he’s encouraged about overseas. “In many parts of the world, [SVOD] is absolutely an incremental revenue opportunity for us.” Especially China: “The SVOD marketplace is exploding over there.”

Dauman acknowledges that Paramount has “had one of those fallow periods.” But he sees “significant improvement” on the film side, while its emerging TV production operation “will be a major driver of our bottom line there.”

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