Viacom CEO Bob Bakish steered clear of talk about a possible merger with CBS but was more expansive at an event with reporters Tuesday on how the mega-mergers and the rise of digital giants in the media world would work in his company’s favor.
While he would not comment on any potential merger with CBS or on whether the network’s former chief, Les Moonves, deserved a payoff, Bakish said he had spoken with acting CBS CEO Joe Ianiello. “I’ve known Joe for a long time,” the Viacom boss told journalists at a Broadcasting Press Guild session in London. “He called me….He was in a new chair, and I had been put in that chair two years earlier, and what’s it like to be in that chair. That was the conversation we had.”
Bakish was more open talking about the wider media landscape. He said media companies starting to retain content for their own platforms – Disney’s plans to launch its own streaming service and pull its content from Netflix, for example – would be to the advantage of Viacom, which has no interest in building a Netflix-like streamer.
“Who is going to supply all the other people?” Bakish said. “Viacom is very well-positioned to do that as a truly global, multiplatform content company….There aren’t that many people that can step in – and Viacom is certainly one [that can].”
Similarly, Bakish said the Disney-Fox deal would also work to Viacom’s benefit, by highlighting the value of a Hollywood studio and creating an opportunity to poach executives and talent while Disney and Fox figure out how their marriage will work.
“There aren’t many of them,” Bakish said of Hollywood studios. “Remember, this is an asset that had very little value attribution in our company. Part of the reason is it wasn’t earning any money. More recently, there has been some sum-of-the-parts value attribution to Paramount, but I think this is an undervalued asset in the company and one that the Fox-Disney transaction highlights.”
Bakish was scheduled to meet with Sky CEO Jeremy Darroch later Tuesday. The takeover battle between Fox and Comcast for the pay-TV giant is likely to be settled within days. Viacom has multiple channels on Sky, at a time when there is pressure to secure carriage on pay-TV platforms.
Asked by Variety about the implications of a takeover of Sky for Viacom, Bakish said: “On the Comcast side, we do a lot of business with [them] in the U.S….We extended our Comcast deal in the U.S. this fiscal year; we entered into an advanced advertising partnership as part of that. On the Disney side, we have less business like that, but certainly we do have some product [of theirs] that we exhibit…That’s a company that presents different kinds of opportunities.”