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Bob Bakish Talks Pluto TV, Netflix and CBS-Viacom Merger Rumors

Viacom CEO Bob Bakish knows that a lot of his peers are in the original content space in streaming, but he believes the company’s ad-supported free service Pluto TV is better off relying on Viacom’s library of content.

“We can debate a lot of things about the future, but in the near term, the opportunity ahead is the current model,” he said at panel at the Paley Center for Media on Thursday night, moderated by Forbes editor Dawn Chmielewski. That model, which involves offering a platform for over 150 content suppliers to run shows and movies on a non-exclusive basis for its 16 million monthly users, has “tons of room to run.”

“You’re going to see Pluto, by the end of the calendar year, be materially larger than it is today,” said Bakish. “And so at some point, yeah, we can look at a lot of different programming strategies, but in the near term, no. This is a great library play, and has great room to run.”

Licensing that content to Netflix prior to that was having a negative impact on Viacom’s business, said Bakish at the event, “because we got a check, but obviously we weren’t building assets.”

Where he is interested in creating originals is at AwesomenessTV, which Viacom acquired in mid-2018, whose audience skews young.

“We saw a studio,” said Bakish. “And it was a studio that was serving, at least as a lead a young female demographic at very attractive price points. And little did we know when we bought it that (about a) month later, they would deliver to Netflix a film called ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ with Noah Centineo, which turned out to be one of the most consumed films on Netflix of all time. At least that’s what they tell us.”

Touting the company’s turnaround, he also called out Paramount Picture’s 180-degree pivot from a nearly half-billion dollar annual loss to what he says is now on its ninth straight quarter of earnings improvement.

“It’ll deliver a profitable year this fiscal year, which is an improvement of $500 million in under three years,” he said, adding that “the Mountain is back.”

And of course, Bakish was asked about a possible merger between Viacom and CBS.

“There’s a lot that’s been written about this topic, including today, and what I’d say is this is the third time we’re having a conversation about this,” he said. “Our focus in the first time was… stay focused, run the business. Second time, same thing. Third time, same thing. And because of that, the company is in materially better shape from the second time to the first time, and from the third time to the second time.”

“We’ll see what happens,” he added, “but the opportunity that’s afforded in today’s landscape continues to be very compelling for Viacom.”

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