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ViacomCBS’s Bob Bakish: Keynote Conversation at CES 2019

ViacomCBS President and 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 January 2019 CES Summit.

Bakish overcame quite a few challenges after taking over the helm of what was then just Viacom in late 2016. “The company was in the need of a turn-around,” he recalled. Three years ago, Paramount lost a whopping $0.5 billion, and Viacom was struggling on other fronts as well.

Another three years in and after the corporate merger with CBS, the company’s movie business was starting to bounce back after a disappointing 2019, with February’s “Sonic the Hedgehog” earning more than any of the studio’s releases last year, but the global shutdown of cinemas due to the COVID-19 pandemic forced the studio to cancel several releases, including the highly anticipated “A Quiet Place” follow-up that would have bowed March 20.

Before the ViacomCBS merger, Viacom was looking to diversify its distribution by focusing on smaller deals through acquisitions of companies like Vidcon and Awesomeness. A growing part of their strategy was 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.