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Viacom ‘Well Along’ in Process for New Leadership at Paramount

Viacom’s new chief executive said the company was “well along in bringing on board the next set of leadership” for the company’s Paramount movie unit, signaling that a new top level of management for the movie studio could be in place soon.

Speaking at an investor conference held by Deutsche Bank, Viacom CEO Bob Bakish indicated that new leaders could be unveiled in the “very near future,” though he declined to offer more specific details. He said the company intended for Paramount to continue releasing 15 pictures a year and would seek to make much of that slate reliant on projects based on properties housed at some of the company’s pay-TV brand, including Nickelodeon and Comedy Central.

Bakish is in the midst of talking up Viacom’s new strategy in the wake of a recent decision by both the company and its sister CBS Corp. not to pursue a merger of the two concerns. Both Viacom and CBS are controlled by the Redstone family’s National Amusements Inc. movie-exhibition chain. Shari Redstone, daughter of controlling stakeholder Sumner Redstone, has been more active in guiding Viacom’s direction. Last year, she opposed former Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman and campaigned for an overhaul of the company’s strategy. Under Bakish, who once led Viacom’s international operation, the company has articulated a plan that would focus more intently on a particular set of TV brands, launch a general-entertainment Paramount cable network in the U.S., and tie its Paramount movie studio more closely to holdings such as MTV, Nickelodeon and others.

He likened Paramount’s slate to that backed by Disney more than a decade ago. Rather than rely heavily on established brands like Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm as it does today, Bakish said, the studio backed “a slate of one-offs, which is the business Paramount is in at the moment.” The trouble is, he suggested, that such a strategy ignored the promotional power that Viacom’s cable networks can lend to the business of launching a film and doesn’t make good use of the intellectual property the networks regularly produce.

He estimated that five to ten films per year at Paramount going forward would be based on properties from the TV networks, and cited the recent announcement of “Amusement Park,” a movie based on a Nickelodeon concept that was being prepared for distribution in 2018, followed by a TV series greenlit for 2019. Paramount could fill the slate with “tentpole” concepts, he said, and the fact that the studio would require fewer standalone projects meant it could focus and devote more resources to the ones it did release.

Bakish also suggested Viacom would continue to pare down operating costs, while focusing its scripted TV efforts at the new Paramount network, which would be formed out of the existing Spike.

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