Viacom’s Bob Bakish Vows To Accelerate Growth As It Weighs CBS Merger

In his first appearance on a Viacom quarterly earnings call, soon-to-be acting CEO Bob Bakish says he’s optimistic about the company’s “very strong footing” even though it faces “challenges.”

He vowed to “accelerate our evolution while building a long-term vision for our future,” even as directors weigh a merger with CBS. Execs declined to provide an update on that process, recommended by Sumner Redstone’s National Amusements which controls 80% of the voting shares.

Bakish says he’ll push for “speed, sharing and a global outlook.” He noted that when he took over Viacom International Media Networks it was “too focused on MTV and U.S. content” and has evolved into “a true multinational organization.”

He acknowledges that “there are some weaknesses.” Still, he says that the glass is at least half full: For example, although Comedy Central ratings are down, The Daily Show’s host Trevor Noah “is significantly stronger internationally than Jon [Stewart] was.” That’s one reason he believes “there’s some good stuff happening at Comedy Central, and we’d like to see more happen.”

Content investments will be part of the plan, Bakish says. But “based on my experience a lot of this is about the mix of investments. It’s not about whether you have to spend dramatically more money necessarily. Our international experience shows you can deliver significant audiences on genres other than high-dollar scripted programming.”

Dooley says that Viacom should do fine as new video streaming services and skinny bundles enter the market — and downplayed the effect of yesterday’s announcement that Sony’s PlayStation Vue will drop Viacom channels.

“There’s an ongoing negotiation and we’ll see how that plays out,” he says.

At Paramount, Bakish notes that while “the film slate will be highly important” he plans to look at the “marketing side to see if that’s an incremental opportunity.”

CEO Tom Dooley, who steps down next week, predicted that the studio will “begin to stand up and distinguish itself” although he says next year’s Transformers: The Last Knight “will be “one of the biggest movies of the summer.”

Asked whether he believes Viacom underinvested in Paramount, Dooley says that “we can debate that all day long.” He’s not persuaded that it would have helped for Viacom to have bought Marvel, the way Disney did — which much success.

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