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Viacom's Bakish Eyes Partnerships to Boost Non-Core Networks

Viacom’s new CEO Bob Bakish, whose strategy for restoring growth to the media company involves shifting resources to key flagship cable network brands, says the non-flagship brands could benefit from partnerships that could help them air original programming.

Speaking at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference on Wednesday, Bakish reiterated that flagship networks like Nickelodeon, MTV, BET, Comedy Central and Spike (which will be re-branded as Paramount in 2018) have the ability to be global and generate ideas that would make good movies.

Viacom’s TV Land and CMT don’t fill that bill, he said, and have been put in a group under Spike’s management because they have similar general market audiences that skew 50-50 male and female, Bakish said.

CMT was lacking because while country music was popular in the U.S., it had limited appeal globally, he said. It has had recent success with original scripted programming by taking over ABC’s Nashville and launching the original series Sun Records.

But Viacom’s resources for original programming will be going to Paramount, so CMT “could benefit from new partnerships that will allow non-Viacom resources to be used,”Bakish said. He added that he was not talking about an equity partnership but a commercial one.

“We will do some creative things with them,” he said.

TV Land will likely return to airing re-runs of older favorites. Bakish said the network was “loved by consumers” and that “distributors find it an important part of their offering.” But he said its original programming strategy “spent a lot of money to generate lower ratings.”

Shifting resources for original programming to Paramount will “actually strengthen TV Land as well,” he said.

Bakish also said that Viacom was looking to strengthen its ties with distributors. None of its major deals will come up this year, he said. So instead of grinding negotiations about fees and streaming rights, Viacom was looking for new ways to partner with distributors.

One way, Bakish said was to use Viacom’s Vantage data driven ad sales machine to sell some of cable operators' lower priced inventory.

“We need more inventory. We’re bringing a lot to the table,” Bakish said.

Bakish also identified short-form digital video as an opportunity that could generate hundreds of millions of dollars of extra revenue for Viacom.

He said Viacom’s current short-form efforts were compartmentalized unevenly across the brands now and he planned the creation of a short-form business unit.

“We need to significantly increase our volume and unlock the benefits of scale,” he said, emphasizing the scale of Viacom’s distribution, particularly in social channels including Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat.

Jon Lafayette
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.