As Viacom CEO Bob Bakish took the stage at the UBS 46th annual Global Media and Communications Conference in New York, the elephant in the room eventually made its way onstage: What about a merger with CBS?
Analyst John Hodulik didn’t put it so directly. He asked, in a delicate way, whether Bakish felt Viacom had the scale to compete long-term at a time when AT&T-Time Warner and Disney-Fox deals are creating entertainment behemoths. Might there be some combination with another company (this provoked laughter in the room as CBS went unnamed) that might open doors?
“We are not focused on a big, transformational deal,” Bakish said. “We like the configuration we have. We’re executing both in turn-around, and now increasingly in this new business area where we’re seeing real tangible results, and we are excited about the road ahead.”
Bakish talked at length about getting Viacom’s debt under control, noting the company couldn’t pursue big deals because the media company was “balance-sheet constrained.”
Instead, the company made opportunistic deals that made sense. Backish highlighted the acquisition of the millennial media company AwesomenessTV, whose low-budget studio produced the Netflix hit romantic comedy To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before; the online video conference, VidCon, which Viacom plans to expand to London and Australia; and influence marketing company WhoSay.
“All those are lower-price-point deals that are already producing value for our company,” Bakish said.
Bakish said the giant media mergers that command the headlines create opportunities for Viacom, in terms of recruiting executive talent and acquiring projects that were “dislocated” by consolidation.
But no, Viacom isn’t sitting around waiting for CBS to propose a merger. Again.