Merger Done, Bakish Aims to Unite ViacomCBS

With the merger of Viacom and CBS complete, ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish will try to sell the new company to Wall Street. At a “Bob Live” town hall meeting at midday on Dec. 5, Bakish and chairman Shari Redstone — whose family controls both Viacom and CBS — answered questions from CBS Evening News anchor Norah O’Donnell and from staffers.

Attendees said the mood was hopeful, although some felt Viacom staffers were more enthusiastic while CBS employees had more of a wait and see attitude. Some women executives sounded hopeful that the CBS culture that allegedly allowed sexual harassment by former chairman and CEO Les Moonves, morning show host Charlie Rose and others would change.

Bakish told staffers they’d all get free subscriptions to the company’s streaming services, but mainly stuck to talking points. “He wasn’t going to say anything ahead of the UBS conference,” one exec said, referring to the annual UBS Media Conference in New York.

At the conference on Dec. 9, analysts and investors will be listening for several financial indicators, including how much money the company will be spending on content for its streaming services. A strategy of “selling its wares to the highest bidder as demand for original content increases … could imply less internal content investment,” noted Wells Fargo analyst Steven Cahall.

On Dec. 4, in a memo sent after the merger closed, Bakish told staffers “demand has never been higher for what we do best: create and deliver culture-defining content and experiences.”

He added: “We will also need to come together around a common mission and set of values that define our culture at ViacomCBS. These efforts, too, are underway, and we’ll be sharing more details with you soon.”

Bakish, Redstone and other execs, joined by SpongeBob SquarePants, Stephen Colbert and Gayle King, rang the bell to open trading on the NASDAQ Market on Dec. 5. The new ViacomCBS stock — ticker symbol VIAC — closed down 14 cents at $40.86 on its first day of trading. CBS’s still-outstanding shares were up 3.6% and Viacom was up 3.2%.

The first steps were already being taken to unite the company, with former Viacom and CBS executives taking meetings together and making plans to jointly present at the January CES conference in Las Vegas.

Colbert, who left Viacom’s Comedy Central to join CBS as Late Show host, noted during his monologue last Thursday night that ViacomCBS were now “the people that pay me.” The combination means “we're going to get great new crossovers, like ‘RuPaul's Star Trek This Morning Starring Teen Mom New Orleans,’ ” he said, adding that the merger means “all of America's favorite networks will be together: CBS, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, Showtime, MTV, VH1, BET, IUD, BT-Dubs, IBS, DUI and the new UTI streaming service starring cranberry juice.”

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.