UPDATED: Viacom has some Disney envy.
The struggling media giant unveiled a plan on Thursday that it said will help revitalize Paramount Pictures by integrating the studio behind “Transformers” and “Mission: Impossible” more deeply into the fabric of its other brands. Paramount has been hit hard by a string of painful flops such as “Ben-Hur” and “Allied,” while suffering from a creative torpor. On an earnings call with analysts, Viacom CEO Bob Bakish said that the studio’s financial performance was a “significant disappointment.”
It was all about brands, as Viacom tried to impress Wall Street with its ambitions to become a more globally focused, synergistic player. As part of that effort, Viacom said that going forward it will focus on its six flagship properties, a group that includes Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., MTV, BET, Comedy Central, and Paramount.
“These six brands each have compelling, valuable and distinct brand propositions,” the company said in a filing. “They serve diverse, substantial audiences with largely-owned content, have global reach and distribution potential across linear, digital, film, and consumer products, events and experiences.”
There have been questions about whether or not Brad Grey, Paramount’s head, will remain in place given the studio’s rocky performance. But Bakish suggested that Grey and others have been granted a reprieve, at least for the moment.
“It really does come down to a set of execution,” he said. “But I believe we have the team in place… to get the work done.”
It’s a strategy that’s clearly aped from Disney, which has spent billions buying up Marvel, Pixar, and LucasFilm and seen its influence grow with each new acquisition. However, it’s not the first time that Viacom has tried to create stronger ties between Paramount and its other cable channels. The studio has made movies like “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” that had ties to Nickelodeon or other brands.
Viacom said that Paramount’s film slate will now include one to two co-branded releases from each of the flagships annually. To kick things off, Nickelodeon and Paramount will collaborate on four films. The first, “Amusement Park,” will premiere in theaters in summer 2018 and will then inspire a TV series on Nickelodeon the following year. Viacom also said that Spike, home of “Bar Rescue” and “Lip Sync Battle,” will be rebranded The Paramount Network.
At the same time, Paramount will try to bolster its roster of franchises and tentpole releases, the industry term for major event movies with global appeal. These could potentially lead to small screen series.
“We will bring a set of our TV brands to film and our film brands to TV in a major way,” said Bakish.
Beyond branding, Viacom said it would alter its approach to content and talent, deepen partnerships to drive revenue, make big moves in the digital and physical world, and “optimize and energize” the organization.” That last part could be tricky.
Morale at the company took a beating following a bruising fight for control of Viacom last year. That battle pitted former CEO and Chairman Philippe Dauman against Shari Redstone, daughter of founder Sumner Redstone. Dauman was ultimately forced out, but Viacom’s shares have plunged in value, falling 40% over a two-year period. Viacom’s board later abandoned a plan to merge the company with CBS, another media property controlled by the Redstones. All of the corporate infighting and uncertainty has made the creative community regard Viacom with trepidation.
Bakish acknowledged that the company had previously “inched towards” greater cross-pollination between Paramount and its television units, but suggested that not enough had been done to make sure all of the media conglomerates were operating in concert.
He decried the “lack of a holistic, unified approach,” but tried to sound an optimistic note after years of bad headlines.
“We now have a clear path forward,” he said.