Viacom’s Bob Bakish Talks Tyler Perry-BET Movie, TV Production Growth, and Film Financing Strategy

Tyler Perry is at work on his first BET-branded feature film for Paramount Pictures, a project that marks the first fruit of the wide-ranging content pact that the multi-hyphenate inked with Viacom last year.

The Perry deal and plans to produce movies co-branded with Viacom’s cable networks such as BET are both part of the larger turnaround effort at Paramount Pictures, Viacom president-CEO Bob Bakish said Monday during a Q&A at the Deutsche Bank Media, Telecom and Business Services conference in Palm Beach, Fla. Bakish said Perry had recently turned in a script for the film and has attached “talent we love.”

Bakish promised investors that Viacom will see its revenue and profits grow by “high single digits” starting in 2019. He said upstart digital MVPDs are helping to slow the pace of subscriber losses at its core cable networks such as MTV, Nickelodeon, and Comedy Central. He reiterated that Viacom is in talks with a range of potential partners to expand its direct-to-consumer streaming capabilities in the U.S. and abroad.

Bakish also predicted that Viacom and others will benefit from the growth of mobile-specific content distribution in the years ahead. Given the broad base of potential mobile customers — essentially anyone with a smartphone — Viacom is in talks with three potential partners who are focused on “unlocking a distribution base that is bigger than all of (traditional TV) combined.”

Among other highlights from the session:

  • Bakish said the climate is looking good for a strong upfront advertising selling season. Based on his recent conversations with advertisers, “the tone is quite good,” he said.
  • Subscriber losses across Viacom’s TV channels have eased from about 3.5% to 2.5% thanks to the advent of Sling TV and DirecTV Now. “It’s still negative, but it’s less negative,” he said.
  • Paramount’s growth in TV production is a big driver for the studio. The division brings in about $400 million in revenue with a 10% profit margin. Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why,” TNT’s “The Alienist,” and the upcoming Amazon drama “Jack Ryan” are among the high-profile properties hailing from Par TV.
  • Bakish said his approach to film financing has changed now that Paramount is tackling films co-branded with the TV side — most of which are in the mid- and low-budget range. The collapse of a broad slate financing pact with China’s Huahua last year also forced them to rethink how to handle their slate. “I don’t want to take financing money on the branded films because they’re low risk,” Bakish said. “I’d rather keep all the upside. By moving to more of an a la carte mode, we’ve achieved a more optimized slate financing strategy.”

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