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Viacom Chief Bob Bakish on Paramount’s Turnaround: ‘The Mountain Is Back’

Paramount Pictures is enjoying a reversal of fortune this year on the strength of box office hits such as “A Quiet Place” and the growth of its television production business, Viacom CEO Bob Bakish told investors Wednesday.

After a years-long slump, Paramount has real momentum coming out of a summer in which “A Quiet Place,” “Mission Impossible – Fallout” and “Book Club” performed well at the multiplexes. That’s a “very stark contrast” to 2016 when the studio churned through $1 billion in cash and lost $500 million, he said.

“There’s no question that the mountain is back,” Bakish said during his presentation at Goldman Sachs Communacopia investor conference in New York. “Book Club” and “Quiet Place” are also “killing it in the transactional window,” he said, citing paid downloads and VOD purchases. Paramount’s 2019 slate will feature the first film from Tyler Perry to come from the wide-ranging overall deal the studio struck with the multi-hyphenate last year, Bakish said.

Moreover, Paramount is expanding the scope of its film production business to include what he called “the streamers,” although he did not elaborate.

“We are in the very late stages of beginning to produce films for different third parties including the streamers,” he said. “It’s another new revenue stream for Paramount, and it’s a great opportunity.”

Paramount Television is also boosting the studio’s fortunes. The TV production effort restarted in 2013 is now delivering about $400 million in annual revenue. He cited successful series such as Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why,” TNT’s “The Alienist,” and Amazon’s “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan.” Paramount at present has nine shows on the air, a number that will grow to 16 next year.

“Paramount is not only back in the television business — it’s a hitmaker,” Bakish enthused.

Bakish credited Paramount’s markedly improved performance to the leadership of chairman Jim Gianopulos and the “best in class” management team that the film veteran brought in after taking the reins in April 2017. Bakish did not reference the messy transition at Paramount Television, where Nicole Clemens was named president last week following the ouster in July of Amy Powell over allegations she made insensitive remarks on a work-related conference call.

The conversation also steered clear of any discussion of CBS Corp. and the corporate drama involving Viacom’s cousin under the National Amusements Inc. banner. There’s been much speculation about National Amusements reuniting the companies that were merged in 2000 and split apart again in 2006 — a push that sparked legal action by CBS that was settled this past Sunday along with a separate pact that saw CBS chairman-CEO Leslie Moonves forced out amid sexual assault allegations.

Bakish said there’s a “lot of noise and activity” on the media M&A front, but his focus is on “operating the assets we already own. We see substantial value creation opportunities ahead.”

On the TV channels front, Bakish pointed to MTV as a “microcosm” of the push since he became CEO in late 2016 to focus resources on six key channels out of Viacom’s suite of 25 domestic cable channels. “That brand is in far better shape than it was two years ago,” he said.

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