Miami — Viacom's new CEO Bob Bakish, a 20-year veteran of the company, did not have much room for spin during his keynote session at NATPE given the company's recent narrative of management upheaval, boardroom tension and an aborted effort to merge with CBS. So he met the skepticism head on and offered his take from the corner office: The company still has potent assets and is seeing early signs of recovery.
"The last 12 to 18 months have been filled with drama," he acknowledged, alluding to the battle between Sumner Redstone and ousted CEO Philippe Dauman and a protracted battle over control of the company. "A lot has been lost in that. Viacom still has the largest share on pay TV of every demo it serves. Sure, there's been a lot of drama, far more than I care to read. We needed an overall plan."
In the short-by-conference-standards 30-minute session that ended with 10 minutes of oddball questions from the audience, Bakish did not have time to go into extensive detail about the plans for 2017 and beyond. He hinted that more would be revealed by the company in February.
"We are starting to see some green shoots," he insisted. "We've become a little bit of an underdog, which I like. … We're going to get there. There is a clear path."
Bakish recalled that when he worked in and eventually led the international arm of Viacom, the company decided to focus resources on six core networks: Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., Comedy Central, MTV, Spike and Paramount Channel. The company invested "disproportionate resources in them to make sure they were as strong as they can be."
Addressing the network portfolio more generally, including the U.S. operations, he added, "One of the missed opportunities was some of our programming has been a little too scattered, so we don't have critical mass on some of the networks. We need to focus on that more" and fortify resources accordingly.
While he emphasized that Viacom and CBS remain two separate, publicly traded companies, Bakish noted his longstanding relationship with CBS Chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves and said that collaborations between companies would still be possible. "It's not a strategy per se," he said, "but you never know."