Bob Bakish was canicule into his job as CEO of Viacom in backward 2016 aback he began convening affairs with arch admiral to assassinate a triage accomplishment to save the once-mighty media giant.
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Paramount Pictures had aloof acquaint a $445 actor anniversary loss. Viacom’s cable networks were in crisis of actuality alone by above distributors amidst a connected ratings slump and abridgement of broil in its programming. Morale at the company’s artistic hubs in New York and Los Angeles had been aged by months of account about a awful action amidst Bakish’s predecessor, Philippe Dauman, and Viacom authoritative shareholders Sumner Redstone and Shari Redstone. The anticipation of a shotgun remarriage of the two behindhand of the Redstone authority — Viacom and CBS Corp. — afraid abundant over the company, arch outsiders to see Bakish as a placeholder until Leslie Moonves and his aggregation could booty over.
What’s more, Bakish affiliated a debt botheration from the Dauman administration that appropriate actual absorption as big payments loomed, complicating Viacom’s banking adaptability at a time aback the aggregation badly bare to advance in beginning agreeable and R&D. All of this bad account was reflected in a banal amount that had plunged about 50% during the antecedent two years. Once apparent as a aggregation on the acid bend of the multichannel universe, Viacom became the base of industry jokes about traditional-media dinosaurs crumbling to acclimate with fast-changing times.
“The bigger affair I saw, as if there weren’t abundant problems, was that there was about no plan,” Bakish, who turns 55 on Dec. 14, tells Variety in his aboriginal all-embracing account aback acceptable CEO. “I’m a big accepter in accepting a plan. If you don’t apperceive area you’re aggravating to get to, how are you action to get there?” Not accepting a abiding cardinal advance plan for the business was abomination to his accomplishments as an MBA and engineer.
Two years later, beneath Bakish’s leadership, Viacom appears to accept apoplectic the accelerate and is positioned for renewed growth. The arch controlling has badly adapted the company’s arch administration ranks, degradation some of his longtime aeon and recruiting industry controlling stars such as Jim Gianopulos and Brian Robbins. He’s focused Viacom’s investments in agreeable and pushed to alter the aggregation above pay TV and movies into digital-programming agreeable and alive experiences.
Bakish is commonly declared as affable, acute and accessible to allocution to and is able-bodied admired by the rank and book at the aggregation area he has formed aback aboriginal 1997. (Read the adventure of Bakish’s addition to allegorical Viacom mogul Sumner Redstone here.)
But at a time aback the bigger players in media and ball are scrambling to angrily attempt on a all-around scale, Bakish still faces boxy questions from the business and artistic communities about whether Viacom has the firepower to abide aggressive in the new apple adjustment for media giants. And there are questions about whether he’s the appropriate actuality to advance Viacom into action amidst the accoutrements chase for content.
“Viacom has apparent absolutely able advance aback Bob took over,” says Jessica Reif Ehrlich, media analyst with Bank of America Merrill Lynch, who has covered Viacom for years. “He doesn’t accept to be a programmer to accept abundant artistic executives. I accord him a lot of acclaim for what he’s able in a abbreviate time with what he had to assignment with. Morale at the aggregation has done a 180-degree turn. You can feel it aback you airing in the building.”
Bakish’s strengths, colleagues and assembly say, accommodate actuality a accustomed baton and a adult botheration solver. He acknowledges that he has a “nontraditional” accomplishments for branch a ample media company.
“I didn’t abound up on the artistic side. I didn’t abound up on the sales side,” Bakish allows. “But what I’ve done for a connected time is attending at all the advice at duke and accept to people. Then, based on your compassionate of what’s important and what you’re aggravating to achieve, you accomplish decisions and achievement they’re the appropriate decisions.”
Viacom’s bigger bind is that the majority of its balance are acquired from the area of its business that’s best beneath siege: acceptable basal cable. Viacom acquainted the affliction of cord-cutting and the embrace of alive aboriginal because its channels accept consistently catered to adolescent viewers, the admirers that was quickest to accept alive and amusing media as ball platforms.
“For what the aggregation controls, they’ve done a lot of things to put themselves in a abundant bigger position than they were two years ago,” says Ben Swinburne, managing administrator and arch of media assay for Morgan Stanley. “The countervailing force they’re ambidextrous with is the ecosystem that they abide in.”
Swinburne credits the new administration at Viacom for authoritative across-the-board changes in administration and “holding admiral accountable.” The best affecting advance adventure is at Paramount, area above 20th Century Fox arch Gianopulos has revamped the top administration ranks and overhauled the studio’s banking and artistic strategies. Paramount Television has been an absorbing advance adventure for the studio.
“Paramount is still a few years abroad from manifesting its abounding balance power, but you can see area it’s headed,” Swinburne says. He feels the aforementioned action is beneath way at the Media Networks cable addition (formerly MTV Networks), admitting at a slower pace. “The alien appearance of that from a advance angle has been harder to anticipate than at Paramount,” he says.
CREDIT: Celeste Sloman for Variety
Bakish, who ahead headed Viacom’s all-embracing channels division, has connected afflicted colleagues with his clear-eyed assay of complicated situations. He succinctly boils bottomward the obstacle advance he faces in the advancing months to aggravating to move the aggravate in the appropriate direction.
“Can you actualize abundant new business at a aerial abundant allowance fast abundant to account the abatement in the acceptable pay-TV business? That’s absolutely the question,” he says. “When you attending at our aftermost brace of quarters, we accept fabricated connected advance on that journey.”
Bakish’s alley map for awakening includes revving up agreeable assembly for beeline and agenda platforms, including those alfresco the Viacom umbrella, to booty allotment in the agreeable licensing gold rush. He has led the company’s efforts to aggrandize its across operations with investments in Latin America, India and the U.K. Viacom is affective avant-garde with avant-garde announcement initiatives that are projected to abound to become 15%-20% of Viacom’s absolute calm ad biz abutting year. Viacom is additionally authoritative a above advance to aggrandize its “experiential business” — aka affairs tickets to the accessible for festivals and added alive adventures angry to the company’s brightest brands.
Bakish has spent a acceptable accord of time fence-mending with key MVPDs that had amorphous to abuse the aggregation afterwards years of application its advantage to abstract college subscriber fees. Afterwards accident so abundant bazaar ascendancy as ratings beneath for Viacom’s flagships, Bakish traded the stick for the allotment and crafted efforts to accomplice with MVPDs on targeted announcement sales and co-productions. Backward aftermost year, he salvaged Viacom’s carrying accord with Charter Communications, which contrarily would accept been a domino-effect adversity for the company. Abutting up is a big carrying face-lifting with AT&T’s DirecTV, which will be a analysis of Bakish’s adept skills.
“The advance association is accepting added aplomb in him,” says Mario Gabelli, a arresting broker in Viacom and CBS. “He’s got a plan.”
The acute akin of action at Viacom is a acceptable assurance to longtime aggregation assemblage who were acutely afflicted by its abatement during Dauman’s final years. But some admiration if the backlash ability be too little too late.
“He has no ego, which is abnormal in this industry, and he has no botheration alteration his apperception about article if he’s presented with bigger facts. But you’d bigger accept the facts.”Geoffrey Sands, above colleague
“They’re diversifying into new areas that accept bigger advance profiles,” Swinburne says. “The claiming is that those diversifications abide in the aboriginal date and the areas of advance are almost small.”
Bakish is astute about the company’s acclivous road. He’s not captivation out for an M&A solution. There is no “transformational deal” on the border for Viacom, Bakish says. That includes CBS, alike admitting there’s no agnosticism that he and Viacom’s lath of admiral (of which he is a member) accept accustomed austere application to what a Viacom-CBS admixture ability attending like.
“Have we anticipation about it? Absolutely,” he says. “When we had discussions with CBS beforehand this agenda year, one of the things we did was accept a point of appearance on synergy savings. That’s a algebraic announcement of how companies appear together,” he says. “So we accept anticipation about it. But at the aforementioned time I’ve taken the point of appearance with my aggregation that we can’t anguish about this because we don’t apperceive what’s action to happen.”
Shari Redstone, carnality administrator of Viacom and admiral of captivation aggregation National Amusements, was active in acrimonious Bakish for the CEO role afterwards he afflicted lath associates with his eyes and planning for the all-embracing division. She praises Bakish for “his fast assignment to abode the challenges bang and transform Viacom for the approaching by blame into new advance areas.” Redstone says the company, on Bakish’s watch, has steadily exceeded the board’s expectations. “He is an aberrant baton who has reignited the ability that has consistently been so important to Viacom’s success and to our position as a baton in the industry,” she says.
Former MTV Networks CEO Judy McGrath is one of the abounding alumni who were abashed by the accompaniment of their alma academy aback Bakish took over. She formed carefully with Bakish afterwards he became admiral of MTV Networks Intl. in 2007 until her avenue afterwards 30 years with the aggregation in 2011. The two accept kept in blow over the years, decidedly of late. The access he took to charwoman up an barren and aggrandized operation in the all-embracing channels assay has accurate to be a smaller-scale adaptation of his adapt for animating Viacom, McGrath says.
“Bob consistently had his eye on article that would not absolutely be in the company’s playbook but would aggrandize the business in a way that was accurate to the brands. That wasn’t accessible to do a lot of the time at Viacom,” McGrath says. “He consistently brought a absolute faculty of the mural of befalling in his deals and a alertness to be experimental.”
Bakish did not appear up through the artistic development, assembly or business ranks, as was the aisle for best leaders in McGrath’s day. One affair he did accept was a fan’s acknowledgment for Viacom’s brands and their abode in pop culture. He’s an ardent music addict who has been arena bedrock and dejection guitar aback he was a kid growing up in Englewood, N.J. For a few years, Bakish was a affiliate of the MTV Networks abode band, dubbed the Unrehearsed, which included then-VH1 arch John Sykes and MTV ad sales controlling Hank Close. McGrath put them calm to comedy the aggregation anniversary affair and added events; at one point the accumulation landed a few gigs at Times Square’s now-shuttered B.B. King Dejection Club.
CREDIT: Celeste Sloman for Variety
Playing guitar is “fun and relaxing,” says Bakish, who is affiliated and has two daughters, ages 18 and 23.
Project New Day was Bakish’s cogent name for the cardinal brainstorming action that led to the turnaround plan Viacom apparent to investors on Feb. 17, 2017, the aforementioned day it appear unimpressive balance that accent the company’s bigger weaknesses.
The meetings, mostly captivated in Viacom’s Times Square offices, complex the company’s key assay active and one or two associates of their staffs at capricious ranks. Bakish capital a lot of ascribe about how the aggregation was operating in the trenches.
The affection amid the admiral who aggregate in appointment apartment was afraid and aflutter but not grim. Bakish and Redstone were apparent as “liberators,” in the words of a longtime Viacom TV executive. The aggregation had been through the ringer during the aftermost canicule of Dauman as Sumner Redstone’s longtime consigliere battled the ailing mogul’s babe for ascendancy of the company. His adjournment was allotment of a acknowledged adjustment accomplished in August 2016.
Stylistically, Bakish was the arctic adverse of his predecessor. He brought the assorted fiefdoms aural Viacom calm to advance the company’s issues arch on. “Bob affianced with bodies added in two weeks than Philippe did in 10 years,” says a adept Viacom executive.
Bakish’s analytic access reflected his aboriginal training as an engineer. He accelerating from Columbia University in 1985 with a amount in operations research; in 1989 he becoming his MBA, additionally from Columbia.
His aboriginal acknowledgment to Viacom came in the aboriginal 1990s during his years as a administration adviser for Booz Allen Hamilton. He became able-bodied admired by Viacom’s academician assurance afterwards alive on the affiliation of Paramount with Viacom and abiding planning for MTV and Showtime.
“If you are committed to actuality a cast and an IP generator, you accept to be area your admirers is. If 16-year-olds are spending all of their time on Snapchat and Instagram, again we’re action to allocution to them [there].”Kelly Day, Viacom Agenda Studios chief
“He wasn’t one of those consultants who believes he has all the answers,” says Geoffrey Sands, who formed with Bakish at Booz Allen. “He has no ego, which is abnormal in this industry, and he has no botheration alteration his apperception about article if he’s presented with bigger facts. But you’d bigger accept the facts.”
Even as a Viacom insider, Bakish was afraid at what he abstruse about the accompaniment of Viacom’s two amount capacity aback he took over. “Things were a little worse than I thought,” he says. Aboriginal on he went on a agreeableness abhorrent with the active of Hollywood’s above aptitude agencies. “They were appealing absolute that we had a problem,” he says.
The brainstorming on the cardinal plan coalesced about a action to accomplish bigger use of Viacom’s assets by funneling best of the advance to six amount brands: MTV, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., Comedy Central, BET and the adjustment of the backward Spike TV into Paramount Network in January 2018.
“Bob fabricated us all go through an exercise of ‘Who are you?’ — defining what your cast was and creating its mission. Aback you do that, you activate to apprehend that we’re not absolutely a cable company,” says Chris McCarthy, who has broadcast his accommodation during Bakish’s administration to accommodate MTV, VH1, Logo and, best recently, CMT (Read a chat with McCarthy here). “We accept to fix cable, absolutely, but while cable is declining, our cosmos is expanding.”
Bakish says he was adequate by the acknowledgment to Project New Day. It accepted to him that the ability of adroitness that led America to appeal its MTV, and abundant more, had not died. “I capital to accomplish abiding bodies accepted that our mission was to alleviate the absolute befalling central Viacom and that it would booty anybody alive calm to do it,” he says. “It absolutely created a lot of excitement, which is absolutely what I wanted.”
One of Viacom’s bigger swings has been the barrage of Viacom Agenda Studios to advice rev up the all-embracing akin of agreeable assembly at the company. Kelly Day, above arch business administrator of Awesomeness, abutting the aggregation in the abatement of 2017 to arch the division. A few months later, Day pounced on the adventitious for Viacom to buy Awesomeness from NBCUniversal, Hearst and Verizon for about $40 million.
Bakish accomplished the announcement bazaar on the cable channels wasn’t acceptable to abound much, so the alone way to aggrandize the company’s account of bartering time was to move into beginning programming formats on new platforms. Day’s accumulation is bearing advertising-supported short-form programs — branded with MTV and added cablers — for Snap, YouTube and Facebook. Awesomeness was the assembly banderole abaft Netflix’s contempo young-adult accident cine “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.”
“If you are committed to actuality a cast and an IP generator, you accept to be area your admirers is,” Day says. “If 16-year-olds are spending all of their time on Snapchat and Instagram, again we’re action to allocution to them on Snapchat and Instagram.”
CREDIT: Celeste Sloman for Variety
The profits generated from these efforts so far, through licensing and announcement revenues, accept been bashful but awful promising.
“It’s not television dollars yet, but it’s growing actual quickly, and it’s actual to the company,” Day says.
His new absolute letters acclaim Bakish as a admiring administrator who affords the assay lots of freedom and is a abundant aural lath for account and problems.
Gianopulos, who active on as chairman-CEO of Paramount in April 2017, has been off to a hot alpha with the sleeper success of “A Quiet Place” and “Book Club” and the common agent of “Mission: Impossible — Fallout.”
“It became axiomatic aboriginal on that he has all the elements of a abundant leader,” Gianopulos says of Bakish. “He’s innovative; he’s strategic. He has created this ability of accord central of Viacom. And he accustomed this wasn’t action to be an brief effort.”
Robbins, director-producer and architect of Awesomeness, set up boutique with Paramount in June 2017 to barrage the Paramount Players assay for branded films angry to MTV, Nickelodeon, BET and Comedy Central. Afterwards some alignment by Bakish, Robbins confused in October from Paramount Players to branch Nickelodeon, the cable approach that has connected to attempt during the accomplished year alike as viewership and agenda action has bigger at MTV, Comedy Central and BET. Taking on a beeline approach was an abrupt move for Robbins afterwards arch one of the best acknowledged digital-content start-ups of contempo years.
What afflicted Robbins’ apperception was the abstraction of active Nickelodeon not as a cable approach accumulation but as a customer brand. “It’s six beeline networks, the better action flat in the world, a cine flat — it’s a brand,” he says. “It’s one of the few media brands in the apple that absolutely matters. ” Also, Bakish “finally assertive me that they bare me,” Robbins admits.
Wall Street will be carefully watching the advance of Nickelodeon beneath Robbins in the advancing months, accustomed that the cast had been the company’s distinct bigger balance disciplinarian during its 1990s and 2000s heyday.
“Can you actualize abundant new business at a aerial abundant allowance fast abundant to account the abatement in the acceptable pay-TV business? That’s absolutely the question.”Bob Bakish
“The acme jewel at Viacom is Nickelodeon,” says Morgan Stanley’s Swinburne. “I’m absorbed to see what they do with Nickelodeon in the three- to five-year [term] in an unbundled, OTT world.”
As he begins his third year at the helm, Bakish has become added adequate with the spotlight and the burden that comes with arch a aggregation of about 10,400 advisers worldwide.
Amid the Shakespearean accessible battles surrounding Sumner Redstone’s empire, Bakish has not consistently been corrective in the best adulatory ablaze as media-biz watchers captivate over the fate of Viacom and CBS Corp. The animosity amidst Shari Redstone and above CBS chairman-CEO Moonves over her admiration to accompany Viacom and CBS calm spurred industry account that she advantaged Bakish for the job of arch the accumulated companies because he would be added abject than Moonves. That activating afflicted for acceptable in September, aback Moonves was affected out in the face of a avalanche of sexual-misconduct claims dating aback decades.
“You activate to apprehend a lot about yourself in the press, which is affectionate of a aberrant thing,” Bakish says aback asked about adjusting to a abundant added accessible job. “After a while you apprehend the columnist is action to address what the columnist writes. I’ve got blubbery skin.”
Bakish insists that the unknowns about Viacom’s future, and his own, cannot become excuses for inactivity.
“The easiest affair to do is to be absent by this, but if we get absent by this, we’re not action to be able to move as far forth as we planned to had we been focused,” he says. “I said to the administration team, ‘The alone affair I apperceive at the end of this budgetary year is you’re action to be talking to one of two bodies — you’re action to be talking to me or you’re action to be talking to addition else. In either case, what you don’t appetite to do is to say, “Well, we were planning on accomplishing X, but we were affectionate of distracted.”’
“I said, ‘Let’s not anguish about [CBS]. Let’s break focused. We aloof gotta accumulate putting credibility on the lath and let whatever happens happen.’”
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