Viacom’s Bob Bakish: Entertainment-Focused Skinny Bundle Will Launch by Year’s End

A low-cost skinny bundle of entertainment channels without broadcast networks or sports outlets will launch in the U.S. by year’s end, Viacom CEO Bob Bakish predicted Wednesday.

Speaking at Goldman Sachs’ Communacopia Conference investor conference in New York, Bakish said a collection of entertainment-focused cable channels offered via traditional MVPDs for about $20 a month is a vital evolution for the pay-TV biz.

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Viacom is in talks to partner with Discovery, AMC Networks, and A+E Networks in assembling such a bundle. Bakish did not address those specifics during the Q&A, but he emphasized his view that carving out low-cost options tailored to consumers who aren’t interested in pricey sports channels is crucial to keeping consumers in the pay-TV ecosystem.

“We are highly confident that a product will exist at this ($20) price point in this calendar year,” Bakish said. “We think that is a positive catalyst for pay TV and for Viacom in our positioning as an entertainment company.”

Bakish stressed that giving consumers an option to sign on at an affordable price will give MVPDs a better chance to upsell them over time, and a hedge against future losses.

“Distributors have to operate at all price points and move people up and down the funnel,” he said. A $20 option “will bring people into the ecosystem and then you’ll be able to move them up, or instead of churning them, you move them down.”

Among other topics discussed:

— Bakish said mobile entertainment platforms are a huge opportunity for Viacom’s youth-centric brands. He cited the company’s recent launch of an MTV service in Japan designed entirely for mobile. In just a few months, consumption on mobile has topped linear viewership of MTV Japan. “That’s the canary in the coal mine,” he said.

— Bakish touted Viacom’s improved business dealings with key distributors. He’s made it a priority to repair relationships that became “frayed” under the previous regime from Viacom’s historic focus on hammering MVPDs for rate increases and carriage of marginal channels. He cited a recent deal with Altice USA that restored Viacom channels on the former Suddenlink systems, more than two years after they were dropped in a dispute that was a big early signal of Viacom’s vulnerability to the industry.

— The turnaround at Paramount Pictures is off to a good start now that industry veteran Jim Gianopulos has taken the helm. “We’ve pivoted from Paramount being a part of the company that was going away to Paramount being an integral part of the company,” he said.

— Bakish gave a shout-out to the ratings growth that Trevor Noah’s “Daily Show” has enjoyed in recent months. He said the arrival of Jordan Klepper’s companion show “The Opposition” on Sept. 25 will complete the “late-night power hour” and should help both shows gain traction with viewers and advertisers.

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