Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Viacom CEO Says Stock Price Is His Biggest Frustration During MoffettNathanson Media & Communications Summit

Viacom Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Bob Bakish touted the media company's turnaround efforts at an investor conference on Tuesday, May 15 - but expressed frustration with its stock price and acknowledged the company would need to strengthen the ratings performance of Nickelodeon and its recently launched Paramount Network.

Viacom CEO Bob Bakish | Credit: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

MoffettNathanson analyst Michael Nathanson opened the chat with Bakish, at the MoffettNathanson Media & Communications Summit in New York, by saying that Viacom and Bakish couldn't comment on Monday's lawsuit from CBS Corp. against Viacom' and CBS' controlling shareholder National Amusements, which is owned by the Redstone family, to block a merger of the two companies and reduce NA's voting power. Nathanson highlighted that this was really a CBS and NA issue.

Speaking at the conference in a session that was webcast, Bakish started off by saying. "I fundamentally believe we made a lot of progress at Viacom in the last year or so," including by bringing in new executives at the networks unit and having "a complete management overhaul" at the Paramount studio that he said would set up the studio to grow and be profitable in 2019.

But Bakish also reiterated that the turnaround of Viacom's business will continue to be a process. "It's not a light switch," he said.

His biggest disappointment so far? The company's stock price, the Viacom CEO said. "Fundamentally, we are not yet seeing a financial appreciation of what we have done." He emphasized that "we are 1,000 percent focused, me and our senior management team, on pushing the company forward."

The value of Viacom, which has seen improving financials and operating momentum over the past year-plus under Bakish's leadership, was understood to have been one key focus in recent talks between the independent board committees of Viacom and CBS about a possible recombination. The other issue was understood to be the future role of Bakish.

CBS said in its Monday lawsuit that it was seeking to prevent the Redstones from ousting any board members or changing the company’s bylaws before a Thursday board meeting that will formally consider the possible Viacom deal, and also a dividend that would reduce National Amusements’ voting stake from 79 percent to 17 percent. CBS said a special committee of its board had over the weekend reached the "unanimous decision" that the proposed Viacom transaction was "not in the best interests of CBS stockholders."

While Bakish didn't get asked about or address his take on a possible recombination with CBS, mergers and acquisitions (M&A) was a topic of debate during his appearance. "It will either maybe restart the race on vertical integration" or force companies to pivot in different directions, he said about the upcoming court decision on AT&T's planned acquisition of Time Warner. And he said that while nobody expected Rupert Murdoch to sell parts of 21st Century Fox, the company's deal with Walt Disney wasn't something he sees as a factor that would fundamentally "influence the future" of the industry and its direction.

Discussing Viacom's TV networks business, the CEO said its current position in terms of distribution was "night and day" compared to when he took over as permanent CEO in December 2016. In terms of ratings trends, MTV and other key networks have gotten stronger, while others are not where they need to be yet.

"We do have some ratings issues with our Paramount Network," which launched in January as a rebrand of the former Spike, he admitted, mentioning some scheduling changes this week and upcoming originals after the first original series Waco, which he said "performed very well." He mentioned "two pieces of signature original programming in the very near future," namely American Woman, starring Alicia Silverstone, Mena Suvari and Jennifer Bartels, and Taylor Sheridan's Yellowstone with Kevin Costner. He called both "pretty spectacular." Overall, the network "needs a little more time to bed down," he said.

Bakish also mentioned Nickelodeon as having ratings challenges. "It's part working on the linear television side and also partially expanding our share of non-linear television," he said.

Asked about why he was confident that the Paramount studio would return to growth and profitability in 2019, Bakish cited the new management talent brought in by studio head Jim Gianopulos, his team's well-planned slate and growth in the unit's TV production business. "The damage was really self inflicted," he said about the challenges of the studio when he took over. "The results were disastrous" on the slate side because of bad planning. Bakish also predicted that the back half of the current fiscal year would be profitable for Paramount.

Original source: The Hollywood Reporter.

Also, from Deadline:

Viacom CEO Bob Bakish Doesn’t Weigh In On CBS-Shari Redstone Drama, Touts Comeback Strategy Instead

Viacom CEO Bob Bakish spent an hour discussing the company’s comeback-kid story without weighing in on the elephant in the room: the big, public brawl between CBS and Shari Redstone.

CBS is seeking a temporary restraining order against Redstone and her family’s holding company, National Amusements, which owns controlling interest in CBS and Viacom. The network went to court Monday to prevent Redstone from interfering with the company’s board before it can consider a measure that would effectively lessen her control.

Veteran media analyst Michael Nathanson said, at the outset of his interview this morning with Bakish during the MoffettNathanson Media & Communications Summit, that the Viacom executive wouldn’t be able to discuss the legal battle between its corporate sibling and Redstone, who has been a proponent of merging CBS and Viacom.

Bakish fell back on a greatest-hits medley of gains at Viacom since he took the reins of the troubled media company in 2016. He talked about his emphasis on strengthening the company’s flagship brands — MTV, BET, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and Paramount — by installing new management and investing more heavily in content.

There are early wins: MTV, under Chris McCarthy, is returning to the network’s roots in unscripted series (like Jersey Shore Family Vacation) and has seen 10 months of ratings gains, Bakish said. BET is up double-digits in the ratings, and Comedy Central is seeing progress as well.

Paramount Network, a rebranding of cable network Spike TV, is still a work in progress, Bakish said. The scripted series Waco has been “well received,” he said, and two more pieces of signature programming are on the way: American Woman starring Alicia Silverstone and Yellowstone with Kevin Costner.

Paramount Pictures is the current star of Viacom’s turnaround story, with studio chief Jim Gianopulos leading a new management team to a major theatrical success with A Quiet Place, a $20 million horror-thriller that has brought in $270 million in worldwide box office. Bakish was upbeat about the prospects of forthcoming films Book Club, starring Jane Fonda and Diane Keaton, and Mission: Impossible – Fallout.

“We have a killer management team and are seeing first-half profitability as a result of greater discipline, and you see the product that’s coming,” Bakish said. “I feel very confident in Paramount.”

Television has become a key driver of Paramount’s revenue, with a contribution for this fiscal year slated to be around $400 million, from zero just a few short years ago (CBS took television production when it split with Viacom in 2006). It already has logged hits with Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why and TNT’s The Alienist, and Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan premieres on Amazon in August.

Bakish talked in detail about Viacom’s international business (which he headed for a decade) and the various initiatives to capitalize on next-generation platforms, from mobile devices to streaming services to social media offerings.

The newly constituted Viacom Digital Studios, led by AwesomenessTV’s Kelly Day, held its first NewFront presentation this year where it highlighted its work producing 600 hours of original programming for Viacom’s brands (like Cooking in the Crib with Snooki).

Bakish acknowledged that Viacom has yet to crack fast-growing over-the-top subscription services like Hulu, but he said its networks are available two major players, Sling and DirecTV Now, and has negotiated deals with established pay TV providers to be part of future over-the-top offerings.

The executive also threw in a plug for inexpensive streaming services like Philo that are stripped of pricey sports programming.

“I continue to believe there’s a real opportunity there,” Bakish said.

The biggest disappointment so far: The company’s stock price, which opened down about 2% this morning at $28.32.

“We are not yet seeing a financial appreciation of what we have done,” Bakish said.


More Nick: Viacom Unveils Viacom Digital Studios @ First-Ever Digital Content NewFront!

Additional source: Wikipedia.
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