Paramount Global is unveiling today a corporate image campaign that builds on the sentiment of a popular self-help affirmation: You are loved, and you are enough.
Just in time for media upfront season, the company’s “Popular is Paramount” marketing push is designed to burnish its image within Hollywood and on Wall Street. Paramount Global CEO Bob Bakish wants the town and the Street to know that the company is fielding a new generation of hits – from “Top Gun: Maverick” to “Yellowstone” to “Paw Patrol” — and is not intimidated by having to compete against larger rivals such as Disney, Warner Bros. Discovery and Comcast.
The campaign will include outdoor advertising in highly trafficked corridors of New York and Los Angeles, as well as on digital and TV platforms, both on and off Paramount’s own air.
“What we’re really saying is that Paramount is all about popular content. And we know how to make content popular too, through great marketing,” Bakish told Variety. “We just want people to understand how powerful we are. It really focuses on how our content is broad and beloved, it plays to the coasts, it plays to the middle of the country and it plays globally.”
Bakish and Paramount Global chairman Shari Redstone are clearly tired of reading headlines about Paramount being Too Small to Succeed in the 21st century streaming wars. It also comes weeks after Paramount reaffirmed sobering news to investors with its Q4 results that this year will mark the peak of losses incurred in the the build-up of Paramount+. The company’s shares took a hit but rebounded surprisingly well after also confirming that it will likely have negative free cash flow this year.
The image campaign also comes as Paramount has opted to not hold a traditional upfront presentation for advertisers during the week of May 15, when the largest TV players traditionally pitch new shows for the coming season, in favor of a series of dinners scheduled for this month and next with top media buyers in New York, L.A. and Chicago.
Meanwhile, the struggles of Paramount’s recent past have been recounted in lurid detail in the newly published book “Unscripted: The Epic Battle for a Media Empire and the Redstone Family Legacy” by James Stewart and Rachel Abrams.
Bakish resolutely declined to offer a comment on the book. It covers in detail the period in which he became CEO in 2016 and the turmoil that led to the union of the two halves of the Redstone empire – Viacom and CBS Corp. — in 2019.
Bakish has his sights set firmly on the future, and he wants Paramount to get credit for what he calls “an amazing ‘22” with big, bold popcorn hits, like Paramount Network’s buzzy western drama “Yellowstone” and for parachuting Tom Cruise in to save the multiplexes with “Top Gun: Maverick.”
“We are unquestionably one of the premier content companies in the world,” Bakish said. “When people say you’re too small to succeed, I go ‘Wait a minute, and what are we missing?’ Let’s start with we got the number-one broadcast network and the biggest broadcast portfolio in the world. We’ve got a scaled cable network portfolio that leads, particularly against younger and diverse audiences. We have the number-one FAST service in Pluto TV, which is also expanding globally. We’ve got the SVOD service Paramount+ that added more subs than anyone else in the industry in Q4. And we’ve got one of the very few 115-year-old Hollywood studios that exist out there. So you tell me, what are we missing?”
After a breath or two, Bakish reeled off more facts and figures. He asserted that the concept for the Popular is Paramount campaign has been in the works since last year, when the company was rebranded as Paramount Global, after merging in late 2019 as ViacomCBS.
“In 2022, we proved that we can lead at the box office, we can lead on linear television, we can lead on streaming both free and pay,” Bakish said. The ballyhoo blitz “celebrates the fact that we’re doing that based fundamentally on the depth of the popular content that we’re bringing to screens. We are a force to be reckoned with.”
Bakish and his team are reckoning with a lot of strategic questions these days in terms of its asset base and operational focus. Of late, Bakish has been moving chess pieces around such as the decision to consolidate its premium TV stalwart Showtime with the Paramount+ into a single offering, for linear and streaming platforms. Earlier this week a report emerged in the Wall Street Journal that Paramount is considering selling other pillars of its linear TV bundle — BET Networks and VH1 — to buyers that may include independent media moguls Tyler Perry and Byron Allen. There have also been reports that Paramount in recent years has fielded inquiries about a possible acquisition of Showtime.
Bakish declined to comment on the BET/VH1 situaiton — “in the world of M&A it doesn’t make sense to comment on specifics,” he averred. Bu he did elaborate on the decision-making behind bringing Showtime and Paramount+ together, given that both outlets largely focus on high-end scripted content.
“It’s a win for Paramount and its shareholders because (the consolidation) is very accretive from a financial perspective, in terms of the organization, in terms of content, in terms of marketing, so that’s all about getting stronger,” he said. “It’s going to be the definitive multiplatform, premium offering in the space.”
In short, Bakish said, the overtures they got for Showtime were not enough to make them part with the asset that at present is home to shows including “Yellowjackets” and “Your Honor.” “People can make an offer any day of the week. And we’ll always listen because we’re stewards of shareholder value. But when we look at that against the bar of our internal plan of what we’re going do starting this summer, it was very clear that our organic execution plan for this new form of Showtime is significantly superior, and that’s the plan we’re executing against.”
Bakish also made it clear that the company is studying and stress-testing every major piece of the empire as Paramount repositions for its second century in Hollywood (as well as the U.K. and Latin America). Paramount Global at present employs about 24,500 full-time and part-time employees, along with another 5,800 contract workers. That level has held steady for the past few years even as the company has dealt with post-merger layoffs and restructuring to adjust to the needs of the streaming era.
“What you’re seeing is a transformation in the company, not a reduction in the size of the company,” Bakish said. “It’s a shift in the consumption and alignment of resources, not a reduction in size of the company. And that’s what we need to do.”
As executives evaluate the future prospects of older assets, the goal is to find sources of original content that can become big global hits. Through all of its networks, film and TV production units, the company has a trove of IP and the ingrained expertise in turning out movies and TV shows.
“My fundamental objective is to bring all of our assets to bear in any situation as much as I can. We leverage the value of Paramount, which is underpinned by our popular content,” Bakish said. “I couldn’t be happier with the performance of the Paramount content engine.”
As Paramount upturns the couch cushions on everything, there’s been speculation that CBS itself could be on the block, or that some of its O&O stations could be sold in some form. Some private equity giants such as Apollo Global Management and Standard General have shown an interest in TV stations in recent years.
Bakish indicated no interest at present in selling off any stations. But the positioning of CBS within Paraomount’s starry circle of assets — even as measured by the Popular is Paramount branding — is undeniably diminished in the new era.
“CBS is a phenomenal asset,” Bakish said. “We like the business,” he said of CBS’ 28 owned-and-operated TV stations. “It’s obviously additive to our distribution. It’s additive to our economics. … We like the network, we like owning stations, and we will continue to have many, many affiliates, from big groups to individual ones.”
(Pictured top: A Popular is Paramount billboard perched above the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood)