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Viacom CEO Bob Bakish: Mobile Will Be a Catalyst for the TV Industry

Viacom CEO Bob Bakish isn’t ready to celebrate victory just yet. “I wouldn’t ever say mission accomplished, and certainly not in the changing world we are living in,” Bakish said during his keynote conversation at Variety’s CES Summit Wednesday.

That’s despite the fact that Bakish has overcome quite a few challenges since taking over the helm of the media company in late 2016. “The company was in the need of a turn-around,” he recalled. Two years ago, Paramount lost a whopping $0.5 billion, and Viacom was struggling on other fronts as well.

Two years in, the company’s movie business is doing a lot better. “Paramount is in a fundamentally better place,” he said. This is also manifesting itself in the bottom line: “We’ve had seven straight quarters of earnings improvement,” Bakish said.

So what’s next for Viacom? A major merger perhaps, possibly the long-rumored partnership with CBS? Bakish seemed dismissive. “Our plan is fundamentally based on the assets we have,” he said. “We don’t need a transformational deal.” Instead, Viacom was focusing on smaller deals through acquisitions of companies like Vidcon and Awesomeness.

Instead of merging to compete, Viacom is looking to diversify its distribution. “We are active in the OTT space,” he said. “We are also active in the SVOD space through our third-party production business.” A growing part of this strategy will be to lean into mobile, said Bakish. “Mobile distribution really is the catalyst that will turn this whole decline of television argument on its head.”

One of the factors that will drive mobile forward will be 5G, but Bakish also looked further ahead to driverless, 5G-connected cars. “The last vestige of video-free consumption is the automobile,” he said. In the future, cars could add many more viewing minutes, just like the bedroom TV did many years ago. “That’s coming,” quipped Bakish.

Bakish added that the company was also looking to strike new distribution deals, including its partnership with Facebook to stream MTV shows, to keep the company’s brands “top of mind” for consumers.

And finally, Bakish also hailed the new platforms as a frontier for advanced advertising, calling out Dish and Sling TV as examples. Dish was still mostly serving up ads the traditional way, whereas Sling’s ad business is a lot more targeted. “All the Sling ads are dynamic,” he said.

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