NATPE: Bakish outlines Viacom turnaround plan

Bob Bakish

Bob Bakish

New Viacom CEO Bob Bakish has begun to flesh out a plan to turn the US-based media giant around after a tumultous period for the business, he revealed here at NATPE Miami yesterday.

Bakish (pictured) said he is working up a plan to “put the magic” back into the company, and speaking to DTVE‘s sister title TBI after his keynote said there will be much closer integration of US and international operations.

Bakish said internationally the focus will be on getting deeper penetration for its existing brands. In an unusual move for the CEO of a large US media company, Bakish talked extensively about the international Viacom business in his keynote, covering Colors in India, Channel 5 in the UK and recent acquisition, Telefe in Argentina, as well as the pay TV brands and digital services.

The Viacom boss admitted it had been a tough period for the media giant after ratings difficulties and boardroom clashes, and said as that well as closer integration of US and international, a key element of his turnaround plan for the business is ensuring the parts of the Stateside business are working more effectively together.

Bakish claimed the fundamental Viacom business remains strong. “The last 12-18 months for Viacom have been filled with drama and through that a number of important points were lost,” Bakish said. “Here in the US, Viacom has the largest share in every demo it services and more homes cumulatively than any other media company in the world.

“Sure there’s been a lot of drama, our stock has gotten hammered, but we have fundamentally great assets. When the board asked me to become permanent CEO it was clear there were some great things and that we also had some issues.”

Bakish, who is just over a month into his permanent CEO job at Viacom, having been upped from international chief, said the issues top of mind were, the Viacom boss said, the poor performance of the MTV channel in the US and “frayed relationships” with some pay TV platform partners.

“It was also clear to me we needed an overall plan,” Bakish said. “I see a very clear path forwards and we’ll start to talking about that in the marketplace around the February timeframe.”

Ahead of that strategy in full, Bakish said his turnaround plan will involve retaining the company culture in which they can take creative risks, and getting different parts of the company to work more effectively together. He has already appointed David Lynn to take on his role role as chief executive of Viacom International Media Networks.

“One thing that was true about Viacom circa 2016 was that it had become very siloed,” he said. “The Paramount studio was operated almost entirely independently from the pay networks, and the brands operate independently from each other, and for me that is a big missed opportunity. We need to work on ways we can leverage our combined scale.”

With Paramount now remaining part of the Viacom business – former CEO Philippe Dauman in part lost his job over his insistence to sell a stake in the Hollywood studio – and CBS remaining a separate entity, Bakish was asked about how each will work with other units of the media company. While saying there will be greater cooperation between the film studio and other units, he was more guarded about CBS, which shares the same parent, National Amusements.

“I know Les [Moonves, CBS CEO] really well and I certainly talk to him,” Bakish said. “The reality is we are two separate publicly-traded companies that the Redstone family has controlling interests in. If the opportunity to work together is there, great, but it’s not a strategy per se.”

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