CEO: ViacomCBS Merger Offers ‘Unmatched Scale’

Corporate synergy and scale are two key economic points underscoring the $30 billion re-merger of Viacom with CBS.

Speaking Aug. 14 with CNBC, Robert Bakish, current Viacom CEO and future head of the renamed ViacomCBS, said the combined media company would offer “unmatched scale” with 140,000 television catalog episodes and 3,600 movies, including content from Paramount Pictures and CBS Studios.

Bakish said CBS’ early move toward direct-to-consumer content distribution with CBS All Access and Showtime OTT, and Viacom’s acquisition of ad-supported VOD service Pluto TV well-positioned the rebooted media company in the in the streaming video era .

“[That’s] not something people have talked about a lot [regarding the merger],” he said.  “You unite those two together and you really have a D-to-C ecosystem. Very compelling, both with substantial — millions of users.”

When asked whether ViacomCBS could successfully match Disney, Netflix or WarnerMedia, Bakish said scale could be viewed subjectively.

“Between the studios that we operate, Paramount, CBS Television Studios, Nickelodeon Animation and Viacom International Studios, we have 750 series ordered or in production. There is true content scale here,” he said.

“There’s no question the companies are stronger together than they were independently. And, you know, we’re going to start executing with that.”

The executive defended the companies’ downward revised cost savings from $1 billion to $500 million.

“This is excluding programming, excluding marketing, excluding revenue. So, there’s a very material opportunity. And as we get into it we’ll move forward and begin to realize that [cost saving],” Bakish said.

The initial pushback on the deal from former CEO Les Moonves disappeared following  the executive’s ouster due to #MeToo allegations.

Bakish contends the cultures at Viacom and CBS have a lot in common — with both companies focused the content creation and distribution.

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“An employee of CBS News loves CBS News, just like an employee at MTV loves MTV,” he said. “There’s incredible value in the combination. You look at the strategy we’re going to start executing against. Building a real leadership position in D-to-C through this combination of subscription product and ad-supported product. This ecosystem, tremendous opportunity there. You look at expanding the partnerships and building new partnerships with advertisers, with distributors. Tremendous opportunity there for all of the people that work in that area. You look at being one of the most significant content suppliers in the world. Tremendous opportunity there. So, I think very quickly this culture will come together.”

With Moonves out, former CFO Joe Ianniello has held the acting CEO position. Following closure of the merger, he will become CEO of CBS, reporting to Bakish.

Ianniello reportedly has a clause in his employment contract paying him $70 million severance should he not retain the top executive job.

“I’ve known Joe Ianniello for 20 years,” Bakish said. “I have tremendous respect for what he’s done at CBS. He’s clearly a world class executive. He and I have spoken a lot in the days leading up to yesterday. And including yesterday. And there is a tremendous interest, joint interest, in unlocking the value of these combined companies.”

Bakish said Ianniello would take the leadership position, running the CBS branded assets upon closing.

“We need someone to run those assets,” he said. That’s a big complicated business. He is ideally suited to do it because he has, you know, 20 years of knowledge in that space and a real passion for it. At the same time, he knows that we have to create value from these assets. We are going to have to work across the company. He’s 100% committed to it and I can’t wait to get on with it with him.”

 

Viacom, CBS Agree on Merger Price

The expected re-merger between Viacom and CBS has reportedly found common ground on the all-stock transaction’s price at around Viacom’s $12 billion market valuation.

Bloomberg, citing sources familiar with the deal, says the merger, which would re-unite parent Viacom and CBS after 13 years, could be announced as early as today.

Specifically, Viacom would get 0.59625 a share of CBS for each of its own shares. A year ago, Viacom had sought 0.6135 a share of CBS.

The two companies, whose assets include Paramount Pictures, BET, MTV, Comedy Central, Showtime and CBS All Access, among others, are looking to save $500 million in combined synergies — about half of what they originally announced.

The deal was originally delayed after former CBS boss Les Moonves sought the CEO position among the combined companies. Shari Redstone, who runs Viacom/CBS parent company, National Amusements Inc. for her ailing 94-year-old father, Sumner Redstone, wanted Bob Bakish, CEO of Viacom, to hold the position.

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Moonves dropped out of discussions when he was forced out at CBS following a series of #MeToo allegations.

Now Bakish is seen inheriting the CEO position, which leaves acting CBS CEO Joe Ianniello’s position unknown.

 

CBS, Viacom Re-Merger Nearly Complete; CBS Eyeing Higher Price Point for International ‘All Access’ Rollout

As expected, the Viacom and CBS re-merger could reportedly be announced as early as next week, pending last-minute stock exchange issues.

Fox Business’ Charlie Gasparino Aug. 9 on Twitter said the deal reuniting CBS with parent Viacom after a 13-year split is in the hands of the companies’ respective boards.

Viacom and CBS are majority owned by family-owned National Amusements, which is operated by Shari Redstone on behalf of her ailing 96-year-old father, Sumner Redstone.

Shari Redstone has pushed for the merger, claiming media consolidation is a perquisite for navigating the rapidly changing media landscape and over-the-top video distribution. She also wants Viacom CEO Bob Bakish to lead the combined companies.

Redstone’s strategy was initially rebuffed by former CBS CEO Les Moonves, who wanted the top job. With Moonves out following #MeToo issues, consummation of the merger seemed a formality.

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Separately, CBS says it will have 25 million combined CBS All Access/Showtime OTT subscribers by 2022.

To get there the media giant is rolling out All Access internationally in attempt to borrow a page from Netflix’s subscriber growth playbook.

All Access, like Hulu, is available with limited ads for $5.99 monthly, or ad-free for $9.99 ($11.99 for Hulu).

Speaking on the Aug. 8 fiscal call, acting CEO Joe Ianniello said the company would target Latin America and Europe with the more expensive $9.99 price point.

“Two-thirds of the All Access subs are taking the limited commercial option,” he said. “So obviously, the vast majority of that is the $9.99 price point.”

Ianniello contends there is strong demand for premium content delivered via broadband in the international marketplace.

“I just look at the number of people in the consumption of Netflix,” he said. “I’m very encouraged that this is single-handedly the largest opportunity that we have in front of us.”

Ianniello said CBS targets international distribution of proprietary content on franchise-per-franchise basis. Characterizing the U.S. market as “limited” to 325 million people, the executive contends a global audience in the billions satisfies long-term fiscal goals.

“Our thought is if [international is] willing to pay us [$9.99], we’re going to look at that hard,” Ianniello said. “But if they’re not, we’re going to put it through our own [domestic] infrastructure.”

With Disney announcing it would bundle pending SVOD service Disney+ with ESPN+ and Hulu, Ianniello said CBS is content limiting its OTT bundling to All Access and Showtime.

“I can understand why others want to kind of do that together because people will subscribe for different reasons,” he said.

With All Access nearly five years old, Ianniello says the company understands its appeal and marketing with Showtime.

“It’s an opportunity we don’t force consumers to do it,” he said. “They can buy part; if they want to buy them together, we obviously discount that. We think again those are different offerings and complementary as well.”

Report: CBS, Viacom to Rekindle Merger Discussions

Media giant Viacom (parent to Paramount Pictures) and CBS reportedly are set to begin in June renewed discussions about a possible merger — nearly 20 years after Viacom created CBS Corp. through a spin-off.

CNBC, citing sources familiar with the situation, say the two companies controlled by Sumner Redstone and his daughter Shari Redstone’s National Amusements corporate umbrella are seeking to “bulk up” the balance sheet in a rapidly evolving media landscape underscored by mergers and acquisitions.

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National Amusements has twice tried unsuccessfully to merge CBS back into the fold — efforts largely rebuked by former CBS CEO Les Moonves, who sought the top position in the merged companies. Sharri Redstone preferred Viacom CEO Bob Bakish in that role.

Moonves was forced out of CBS following multiple allegations of inappropriate workplace behavior toward women.

Scuttlebutt about a possible merger grew after Joseph Ianniello, acting CEO at CBS, had his contract renewed only to the end of the year, and search for a permanent executive was cancelled.

CNBC said the merger would likely be a stepping stone to further M&A activity, including a renewed bid for Lionsgate-owned Starz and SVOD platform Starz Play, and possibly Discovery Communications, home to HGTV, Food Network and DIY Network, among other properties.

Paramount Mining TV Production Gold

Paramount Pictures is in the midst of a turnaround that pledges fiscal-year 2019 (ending Sept. 30) profitability for the first time since 2015.

While the vaunted studio improved first-quarter (ended Dec. 31, 2018) operating income by $40 million — its eighth consecutive quarter of improvement — due the theatrical performance of Bumblebee and Instant Family, a key profit driver was television content production.

Television revenue in the quarter ballooned 84% year-over-year driven by the release of Netflix’s “The Haunting of Hill House,” “Berlin Station,” on Epix, the recent greenlight for a third season of “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” on Amazon Prime Video, and production of Netflix series “Maniac” and “13 Reasons Why,”among others.

Studio boss Jim Gianopulos contends the agreement with Netflix and other streaming services replicates past industry practices around “movie-of-the-week” productions for broadcast TV.

“The difference, of course, is that the quality of these films is much higher, making these relationships even more valuable,” Gianopulos said last November when announcing an agreement with Netflix to produce original movies for the streaming service.

To Bob Bakish, CEO of corporate parent Viacom, Paramount’s renewed success underscores a case study driven by new management.

Speaking Feb. 26 at the Morgan Stanley technology, media & telecom confab in San Francisco, the executive’s comments coincided with the promotion of Dan Cohen to president of worldwide home entertainment & television distribution.

Cohen’s priority will be television production, a business Bakish said didn’t exist at Paramount four years ago. The unit generated $400 million in revenue in 2018 — and is expected to grow 50% to $600 million in 2019.

“It’s not about delivering shows, it’s about delivering hits,” Bakish said.

 

Paramount Home Entertainment Posts 12% Quarterly Domestic Revenue Gain

Paramount Home Media Distribution Feb. 5 reported first-quarter (ended Dec. 31, 2018) revenue of $178 million, down less than 3% from revenue of $183 million during the previous-year period.

Domestic revenue increased 12% to $111 million, while international home entertainment sales declined 20% to $67 million.

The lower home entertainment revenue reflected a decrease in the sales of DVDs and Blu-ray Discs, partially offset by digital sales growth.

The studio’s top-selling home entertainment release in 2018 was Mission: Impossible – Fallout, which generated $18.7 million in combined DVD/Blu-ray Disc sales, according to The-Numbers.com.

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Theatrical revenue increased 49% to $149 million from $100 million due to the performances of Bumblebee and Instant Family compared with releases in the prior year quarter.

Bumblebee, starring Hailee Steinfeld, has grossed more than $450 million at the global box office to date, and is “solidly” profitable, according to Viacom.

Domestic box office revenue increased 44% to $89 million, while international revenue grew 58% to $60 million.

License revenue from television production increased 84% due to the first quarter release of Netflix’s “The Haunting of Hill House,” and season three of “Berlin Station” on Epix, among other titles.

Last November, Paramount entered into an agreement with Netflix to produce original films for the streaming service.

Overall license revenue increased 3% to $220 million from $213 million last year.

“Paramount delivered double-digit topline growth and an eighth straight quarter of improved year-over-year adjusted operating results, driven by worldwide theatrical gains, continued momentum at Paramount Television and international theme park revenue,” Viacom CEO Bob Bakish said in a statement.

Viacom CEO Bob Bakish Focusing on Content in Fragmented Market

LAS VEGAS — For Viacom, content truly is king, according to CEO Bob Bakish, who is forging a “culture of content” at the company.

“I continue to believe there’s a lot of value in assets that we already own,” he said Jan. 9 during the Variety Entertainment Summit at the CES show in Las Vegas.

While the Walt Disney Co., with its Fox merger and pending SVOD service, and WarnerMedia, through the AT&T merger and its own pending streaming service, are leveraging consolidation for greater distribution clout in the fragmented market, big deals aren’t necessarily the best path, he said.

“Vertical integration is very much in vogue,” but historically it “doesn’t tend to work,” Bakish said.

“Bigger is not always better,” he said.

In fact, rather than bulking up to compete with online services, he pointed out Viacom produces shows for Netflix, Amazon and Facebook. For instance, the show “Jack Ryan” is on Amazon. The company launched Viacom Digital Studios to produce social media friendly content for outlets such as Facebook.

“Viacom doesn’t really require a transformational deal,” he said. Instead, the company is doing what he calls “accelerant deals,” such as recent pacts to acquire VidCon, which celebrates online video creators, and Awesomeness TV, which produced To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before released on Netflix.

The goal is “unlocking opportunity through truly multi-platform distribution,” whether it be AVOD, SVOD, legacy platforms or other models, he said.

“Relative to some of our peers, we’re further along in this transition,” he said.

One of the new technologies he is enthused about is the coming 5G mobile delivery standard.

“Mobile distribution is what will turn this [content monetization] decline on its head,” Bakish said.

5G and the move to 10G for traditional TV distribution will both expand the pipelines for content, he noted.

He’s also intrigued by self-driving cars, which will open up more free time for consumers to view entertainment.

Content owners cannot “crawl into the ivory tower” and hope the future will go away, he said.

“You can look at this transformation as glass have full or half empty. I’m half full,” he said.

Viacom CEO: We’re Seeing Incredible Turnaround at Paramount

Among major studios, Paramount Pictures has taken an outsized share of fiscal hits in recent years — only generating its first operating profit since 2015 in March.

Speaking Sept. 12 at Goldman Sachs 27th Annual Communacopia confab in New York, Bob Bakish, CEO of corporate parent Viacom, said Paramount is a very different place today — thanks in part to a trio of theatrical hits and increased television content production, among other initiatives.

Specifically, low budget titles A Quiet Place and romantic comedy Book Club, together with Mission: Impossible – Fallout, the sixth installment in the Tom Cruise-starring franchise, overperformed at the box office – with A Quiet Placeand Book Club now generating significant sellthrough revenue.

Indeed, A Quiet Place grossed more than $188 million domestically, making it the second-highest grossing horror film in the U.S. over the past decade. The film has earned more than $332 million worldwide with a production cost of approximately $20 million.

Released in May 2018, Book Club earned more than $68 million at the domestic box office — more than six times its $10 million acquisition cost. The titles were released in retail (digital and physical) channels on July 10 and Aug. 28, respectively.

“Both those films are killing it in transactions for us right now,” Bakish said.

The executive said that when combined with the global box office of Fallout– the largest in Mission: Impossible franchise history, Paramount has turned the fiscal corner.

“Take those three things together, and there’s no question the [Paramount] mountain is back,” Bakish said.

In addition to movies, Paramount Television has upped content production from nine series on broadcast and online to 16 shows this year and is poised to generate $400 million in revenue.

Notable series include “13 Reasons Why” for Netflix; “The Alienist” for TNT and “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” from Amazon Prime Video. Original movie production for third-party SVOD players has begun with announcements pending, according to Bakish.

“Paramount is not only back in the TV production business, it’s a hit maker,” said Bakish. “It’s a great opportunity.”

What Viacom is not doing is developing a mass market SVOD service to compete with Netflix.

“That business is looking more and more crowded,” Bakish said. “It is a very capital-intensive game if you look what program expenses at those platforms are.”

Instead Viacom is approaching over-the-top video with strategy targeting niche SVOD services such as Noggin.com and distribution through third-party platforms such as Amazon Channels.

“Putting Noggin on Amazon Channels more than doubled subs rather quickly,” Bakish said. “And we’re in the late stages of adding other distributors. We think that’s a very effective strategy.”

Viacom is launching an ad-supported OTT video service featuring library content, and creating third-party licensed content featuring Viacom brands MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, BET, etc.

Bakish says its “part promotion, part revenue,” with digital initiatives produced under Viacom Digital Studios, which launched nine months ago.

“We’re feeling very good about the momentum we have going into the [current] fourth quarter. We are very focused on operating the assets we already own. It’s a quest for scale both inside and outside the company,” he said.

 

 

 

Viacom Launching Ad-Supported Indian-Themed VOD Service in the U.K.

Viacom CEO Bob Bakish has vowed to expand the media conglomerate’s entertainment assets globally.

In November, Viacom 18 Media’s ad-supported Voot streaming video service will expand operations to the United Kingdom – the first of several planned international markets launches.

Viacom 18, which is majority (51%) owned by Mumbai, India’s TV18 and 49% by Viacom, will produce 18 original multi-lingual, multi-genre series for the platform through its Viacom 18 Motion Pictures unit. A news service is slated for as well.

“Voot is integral to our strategy as we gear up for a future-ready Viacom18 that is screen, platform and pipe agnostic,” Sudhanshu Vats, managing director at Voot, said in a statement. “We are building a digital-first brand to harness [our] strengths across its brands, creative franchises and businesses in multiple Indian languages.”

With an Indian origin population of around 1.8 million consumers, the U.K. market presents a significant opportunity for Voot to leverage.

Voot Originals will feature content across multiple genres, psychology, mystery, sports biopics, comedy, drama, thriller, politics, history, crime and suspense, among others.

“The digital medium brings us close to the consumer at a very personal level,” said Monika Shergill, head of content at Viacom18 Digital Ventures. “Our entire content strategy is based on a deep data backed analysis of the needs and desires of our consumers and their consumption preferences and patterns.”

Voot said it would also will also strengthen its user interactivity options with the adoption of Google Watch Action, an industry first in the Asia-Pacific region for premium OTT players. Voot’s platform will also employ Dolby Surround Sound for all original programming – a first for Indian-based OTT video services.

“At an execution level, we have been extremely lucky to be partnering with a galaxy of very talented and committed actors, writers and directors to bring forth our second bundle of Voot Originals,” said Shergill.

 

CBS, Shari Redstone Clash Gets Oct. 3 Court Date

The legal skirmish between CBS and corporate parent National Amusements, which is led by co-owners Sumner Redstone and his daughter Shari Redstone (who runs the company in place of her ailing father), will gets its day in court on Oct. 3.

On that day, the Delaware Chancery Court will begin proceedings to determine whether CBS has the legal authority to flood shareholders with a dividend issuance that would reduce National Amusement’s voting power from 79% to 17%. The issuance would not undermine NAI’s stock ownership or market cap.

Shari Redstone responded to the CBS move by changing the company’s bylaws and requiring 90% approval vote by the board of directors on such matters.

At issue is Ms. Redstone’s desire to meld CBS with Viacom, whose assets include Paramount Pictures, BET, MTV, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central, among others.

Les Moonves, who heads CBS, has been lukewarm to the idea. Moonves, who would head the combined company, wants to install his own management team, including COO Joseph Inniello as his second-in-command.

Redstone wants to put Bob Bakish, current CEO of Viacom, in that position.

CBS, which delayed its annual shareholder meeting due to the conflict, has rescheduled it for August 10.