Viacom CEO Says Low-Priced, Sports-Free TV Bundle Coming This Year


Viacom CEO Bob Bakish didn’t announce the launch of a $20-a-month, sports-free pay TV bundle — but he came close — at an investor gathering this morning. “We are highly confident that a product will exist at this price point in this calendar year,” he told the Goldman Sachs Annual Communacopia Conference.

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Viacom is working with Discovery, AMC Networks, A+E, and Scripps Networks on a service to be called Phil  that’re preparing a “soft launch” soon.

This would be offered via traditional cable and satellite distributors.

“Very quickly you get to a point where all distributors offer all price points,” Bakish says about the sports-free concept. He added that “you don’t want to churn consumers. You want to upsell and downsell them.”


Viacom has pulled back on program sales to subscription video on demand services — and doesn’t have a plan to introduce its own service, similar to Disney’s announced entertainment direct-to-consumer streaming offering.

But Viacom is “in the early stages of starting up a unit” to consider direct-to-consumer options, Bakish says. It’s likely to focus on opportunities outside the U.S., and for pre-schoolers.

The CEO said he has “no new news” about Viacom’s dispute with Charter: It put Viacom channels on a higher-priced tier from the expanded basic bundle. The programmer says that its contracts bar that; Charter says they don’t.

Bakish mostly used the forum to reiterate his view that we’re in “in the early innings of a Viacom that’s coming back to life” as it focuses on its core networks and businesses.

At the movie studio, “we’ve pivoted from Paramount being a part of the company that was going to go away to being an integral part of the company,” he says. “Paramount was run as an island and in the last couple of years was extremely unsuccessful. It ate about $1 billion in cash in 2016. But it’s fundamentally a valuable asset.”

Under the new boss there, Jim Gianopulos, “you can see it coming together” — especially in their plans for the 2019 slate. “This thing is moving in the right direction.”

Comedy Central

Bakish also talked up rising ratings for The Daily Show With Trevor Noah.

“Every sequential month, including in August, is his most watched month,” he says. “He now has the largest audience of millennials in late-night TV against everybody. Jon Stewart was on the network for 18 years. Jon Stewart did not become Jon Stewart in one year. Trevor is in a very good path.”

The CEO also forecast improvements after September 25 when Noah’s show will be followed by The Opposition With Jordan Klepper.

“The stuff I’ve seen from Jordan looks really good, and getting that hour back to full strength will be an important advertiser vehicle as well as a consumer vehicle,” Bakish says.

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