Viacom CEO Bob Bakish Talks M&A, UK Hulu-Style Service & Ad-Stuffing


Viacom CEO Bob Bakish has opened up about a range of topics including its approach to M&A, its interest in partnering with UK broadcasters on a Hulu-style on-demand service and accusations of ad-stuffing, but once again swerved hot topics such as a potential merger with CBS, Shari Redstone and Les Moonves.

Bakish was in London on the second day of his UK media tour, this time speaking at a breakfast organized by the Broadcasting Press Guild, following a keynote appearance at the Royal Television Society’s London conference yesterday.

One of the hot-button issues in the UK at the moment is the creation of a video-on-demand service that includes content from the likes of BBC, ITV and Channel 4, as well as shows from NBC Universal. Up until now, Viacom’s Channel 5 has not been part of this conversation. But Bakish wants in.

“One of the intriguing things in the UK right now is a PSB discussion in the on-demand space that could very well lead to a UK variant of Hulu, a wider AVOD, or potentially SVOD too. We think that’s very interesting and something we’re putting some thought into,” he said. “To the extent that something does come together as a consolidated platform in some shape or size, I’m highly confident we will be part of it.”

Bakish heralded its global production businesses and today pointed to the growth for Elephant House Studios, its UK unit. He said that he was largely focused on organic growth and while not ruling out any “opportunistic” acquisitions, seemed to suggest that it would not be chasing multi-billion dollar superindies such as Endemol Shine. “We’ve been using M&A not as a large scale move but to accelerate our strategy,” he told Deadline. “As part of that we look at a lot of things, unlike some folk who have a clear strategy to roll up studios, that is not a stated intent of ours but if we think something accelerates our strategy, we’ll look at it. Organically. If there’s something interesting we’ll take a look.”

Obviously, the question of CBS came up. Bakish has become masterful at not answering it, but he did say the “question of scale is very popular to talk about and I believe in scale”, pointing to leveraging its own internal assets to achieve this. “There’s been lots written about CBS. I don’t have anything to say but my comment on synergies goes back to something I said back in March, there just are [synergies] when you combine two companies but there’s nothing really to add there,” he added.

He called Shari Redstone a “great board members who loves our company and supports the management team”, but deferred on her future plans for CBS and Viacom. “As to things she’s thinking about in her mind, she’s a better person to talk to,” he said.

Bakish did admit that he had spoken to Joe Ianniello after he replaced Les Moonves as CEO. “I have actually spoken to Joe. I’ve known Joe for a while. He called me and we talked, he’s in a new chair and I had been in a new chair two years earlier and what’s it like to be in that chair, that was the conversation.”

Yesterday, Viacom was accused by Wall Street analyst Todd Juenger of “ad stuffing, extending shows such as Paramount Network’s Bar Rescue well above their customary running times. Bakish admitted that he believes ad loads were high. “We want to continue to find a path to improve that from a consumer perspective. If you look at our ad loads year on year, they’re broadly flat. They have been too high and are still on the high side,” he told Deadline.

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