David Nevins: CBS-Viacom Merger to Create ‘Virtuous Eco-System’ for Content

CBS and Viacom leaders are looking for opportunities to create a “virtuous eco-system” for content that can prosper across the various platforms of the two companies that are set to merge by year’s end. That was the sentiment shared by David Nevins, chief creative officer of CBS and chairman-CEO of Showtime Networks, during a Q&A on Thursday held as part of Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s Media, Communications and Entertainment conference in Beverly Hills.

In the Q&A with veteran analyst Jessica Reif Ehrlich, Nevins pointed to the deal that was afoot even before the merger agreement was reached for CBS to produce a new “Star Trek” animated series for Viacom’s Nickelodeon. Nickelodeon was a better platform to introduce the show than anything in the CBS family. Having more outlets that reach a wider mix of demographics is good for the long-term cultivation of important CBS-Viacom IP such as “Star Trek.”

“What we’re trying to do right now with ‘Star Trek’ is build that brand. We want it to get younger and more relevant to people,” Nevins said. The hope is that sharing resources across the Viacom and CBS properties will “create this virtuous eco-system between all of those platforms,” he said. “If you’re smart about it you can create a lot of value.”

At the same time, ViacomCBS intend to remain active program suppliers to outside buyers. Nevins echoed the comments from Wednesday made by Jim Gianopulos, head of Viacom’s Paramount Pictures, in noting that ViacomCBS will be well-positioned to as a third-party supplier as Disney, NBCUniversal and other major players funnel more of their productions to in-house streaming platforms.

Nevins cited CBS’ decision to produce the series “Diary of a Female President” from “Jane the Virgin” star Gina Rodriguez for the Disney Plus because it was not the right fit for CBS, the CW or Showtime. The “BH90210” reunion series was produced by CBS (which owns the original

“We really believe in serving not only our own eco-system but serving people on the outside,” Nevins said. “There’s a lot of demand and a lot of suppliers pulling back.”

Nevins asserted that one of ViacomCBS’ selling points to the creative community at a time when talent costs are skyrocketing is that CBS shows have a strong track record of off-network success.

“We tend to make money for our partners,” Nevins said. “That backend possibility … becomes an important differentiator in a world where talent goes where they want to go and they want their stuff to matter.”

Reif Ehrlich pressed on how ViacomCBS plans to compete in at a time when talent costs are skyrocketing and nine-figure production pacts have become the norm for A-list talent. Nevins said the key is to nurture great material.

“The reason we’ve gotten Russell Crowe or Jim Carrey or Bryan Cranston (on Showtime series) is because of the material we develop,” Nevins said. “It’s not like ‘Here’s a giant deal and we’ll develop a script for you.’ It’s here’s a great script that we’re going to make really well. People sometimes forget that. You can buy somebody but frequently what wins the day is a great piece of material and a great creative environment.”

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