Troubled entertainment conglomerate Viacom named Robert Bakish as its acting president and chief executive, placing him at the helm of the company as its board considers a potential recombination with CBS Corp., the other half of the media empire controlled by Sumner Redstone’s National Amusements.
The New York company, which operates MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and the Paramount movie studio, also said it would combine its international operations with its U.S.-based entertainment networks, save its Nickelodeon kids’ cable outlets. The new unit, the ViacomGlobal Entertainment Group, will house MTV, Comedy Central, VH1, Spike and Logo, along with TV Land and CMT. The company’s Nickelodeon suite of networks will comprise a new Nickelodeon Group, while BET will be treated as a standalone operation. The move would seem to undo some of the actions put into place early last year, when the company folded three operating units into two and lumped CMT and TV Land with Nickelodeon in an effort to create a larger unit devoted to family programming.
Viacom is, like other companies in the TV sector, struggling with viewers who are migrating to streaming video and mobile devices for access to their favorite programs and news.The changes have in some cases affected Viacom more significantly than its peers, as many of its TV networks cater to the very audiences feeling more at ease with new technology. MTV is now on its third top executive in less than 18 months, and Comedy Central, which once flourished in the late-night arena, has canceled one of the three half-hour programs it shows around midnight. The company’s Paramount movie unit has also fallen on tougher times, relying on movies like sequels to “Zoolander” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” that have not met expectations.
In Bakish, Viacom is tapping an executive who has helped the company establish a wider presence overseas. Several U.S. media conglomerates, including Discovery Communications and Scripps Networks, have pursued acquisitions in places like Europe and Poland. The overseas beachheads serve to beam programming developed in the United States to new audiences, amortizing the cost of content, and, if things go right, delivering new revenue.
Under Bakish, Viacom has built a global presence of more than 200 TV channels that reach 3.9 billion subscribers. “Bob’s record of innovation and achievement at Viacom, combined with his strategic vision and leadership ability, make him highly qualified for this position,” said Tom May, chairman of Viacom’s board of directors, in a prepared statement. “We are determined to move forward aggressively to strengthen Viacom for the future, whether as a stand-alone company or in a potential combination with CBS. There is a great deal of opportunity ahead and Bob is a superb leader to drive this effort, fully empowered to take the actions necessary to position Viacom for success.”
“To be a successful leader in the industry today requires continuous flexibility, a global perspective, a commitment to innovation and an embrace of change. Bob is an exemplary forward thinker who embodies these traits, embraces disruption and brings teams along with him,” said Shari Redstone, Viacom’s vice-chair and one of the members of the company’s controlling shareholder, the Redstone family, in a statement. “Under his leadership our great employees will be supported in their efforts to bring world-class content and experiences to our audiences, while we continue to drive improvements in Viacom’s financial performance.”
Doug Herzog, Debra Lee and Cyma Zarghami, the company’s three top programming executives, are expected to remain in place, according to a spokesman for the company.
Viacom has been in turmoil for more than a year amid a management battle with former CEO Philippe Dauman and controlling shareholder Sumner Redstone and his daughter, Shari,
After Dauman was ousted in August, former COO Tom Dooley was named interim CEO in September. But Dooley declined an offer to become permanent CEO, and set his exit date as Nov. 15. That has forced the Viacom board to find yet another interim leader. Bakish, given his tenure and profile at the company, had also been seen as a potential succsesor to Dauman. He has been with Viacom since 1997. Before Viacom, Bakish was a partner at consulting firm Booz Allen & Hamilton in its media and entertainment practice.