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ViacomCBS Leaders Talk NFL Negotiations, Streaming Wars and Merger Focus

Viacom and CBS aim to prosper in the streaming arena by covering both ends of the marketplace, blending Viacom’s focus on ad-supported platforms with CBS’ strong head start on subscribers for CBS All Access and Showtime.

ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish and incoming ViacomCBS chief financial officer Christina Spade outlined the combined company’s vision for how it will best monetize the $13 billion in content spending across the two companies that are expected to complete the merger agreement announced last month by year’s end. The two spoke Tuesday at Goldman Sachs’ annual Communacopia investor conference in New York.

“We both have experience executing” in the streaming arena, Bakish said, pointing to Viacom’s acquisition this year of the Pluto TV platform and the more than 8 million subscribers that CBS has drawn to All Access and Showtime’s standalone offering since 2014 and 2015 respectively.

“Now that we can bring them together, we can bring people in through the free service and some will only stay in free. Others we will have the opportunity to upsell them to the pay product,” Bakish said. “We can return them to the free eco-system if they decide to pause (subscription services) and re-market to them when their situation changes. We think that is a powerful idea.”

Spade touched on what she sees as the timing of the next round of NFL TV rights negotiations. Bakish addressed the overheated rumors about ViacomCBS’ appetite for additional acquisitions after the $13 billion stock-swap agreement is complete.

CBS expects to begin talks in earnest with the NFL after the league completes its tricky negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Assn., Spade said. Those talks are underway now for a contract to succeed the deal that expires after the 2020 NFL season.

“Would they like a large check? Of course they would,” Bakish added. He said ViacomCBS heads into the NFL talks with a strengthened hand thanks to the merger opening possibilities for promotion and marketing across a broader portfolio of channels. “We bring broadcast reach, first-class creative capabilities, young market reach to complement the older reach and international reach,” Bakish said. “That’s a very substantial package as we move forward.”

Bakish poured cold water on speculation that ViacomCBS would jump back into the merger and acquisition fray in a big way soon for a target such as Discovery Inc. or Lionsgate.

“We just did our transformational deal,” Bakish said. “There’s no other deal in the market that we see that we have to do. Of course we’ll look. But we’ll only do a deal that fits with the strategy.” He cited the company’s interest in assets that would bring more international reach, or a significant library of content and IP or technological assets for Viacom’s Advanced Marketing Solutions ad sales unit.

“We don’t need to do any other deal. We’re very focused on integrating these assets,” Bakish said. “We’ll only be opportunistic in a highly disciplined way.”

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