Viacom CEO: Brad Grey "Is Totally on Board" With New Strategy, But Paramount Will "Have to Perform"

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Bob Bakish

In a chat with THR, Bob Bakish explains the focus on six core brands and what will happen with "reinforcement brands" like VH1.

Viacom is focusing most content development and spending on six core brands and will look for all those core businesses, including Paramount Pictures, to perform well, president and CEO Bob Bakish told The Hollywood Reporter on Thursday.

The entertainment company, controlled by the Redstone family, said earlier Thursday morning that it would focus on its six core brands (MTV, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., Comedy Central, BET and Paramount) and confirmed that it would rebrand Spike TV as Paramount Network. It said it would also look for a "deeper integration" of Paramount Pictures with the rest of the company.

Bakish assumed the Viacom president and CEO role after nixed plans for a Viacom-CBS merger and said he would focus on rejuvenating MTV and Paramount Pictures and moving beyond corporate drama.

In a telephone conversation with THR, he said about Paramount Pictures: "What we need to see is continued evidence of improvement." Asked if there is a time frame he is giving Paramount boss Brad Grey, he added: "There is no magical timeframe per se. And that's true of the company overall. ... What we need is a continued progression, indications that we are evolving to a better place and performance is getting stronger." 

He also said: "Brad is totally on board with this, but ultimately he is going to have to perform. We hold all our business units accountable for performance, and in this transition, that's what we are looking for. I'm optimistic about the direction of Paramount, but there is a lot of work to do."

Asked about the role and future of Grey, Bakish tells THR: "We need to have Paramount perform more strongly. We have made [steps] in the last two months that are designed to start moving in that direction. That includes some key new management positions, including a COO, the slate financing deal, and now the unveiling of a going-forward strategy, which I am very excited about. We will get a competitive advantage for Paramount and therefore Viacom. That's a material development."  

Beyond that, the studio needs to focus on execution, he said. 

Asked if the new strategy is an evolution or revolution for Viacom, Bakish said: "I would characterize this as a significant move forward in a clear strategic direction. Some of it is a bit evolutionary, and some of it is a bit revolutionary. And I think that's good — you want to balance those things."

Any smaller brands that could get phased out? "Today is about our strategy that sets clear priorities for Viacom and points to new sources of competitive advantage we can unlock," Bakish said. "We are not just shutting down a whole bunch of brands today."

Discussing the non-flagship brands, which Viacom now calls "reinforcement brands," he said there has been organizational realignment "to have them complement the flagship six."  

He mentioned the example of VH1, saying: "It has had nice audience growth in 2016 and continues to have a loyal following. But the distinction is only the flagship brands will have the full multiplatform expression, including a piece of the film slate. Only the flagship brands are truly global, and only the flagship brands will benefit from the increased resource commitment."

Where will that increase come from? "It's really about remix of prioritization, not substantial increase in aggregate spending," the Viacom CEO said. At Paramount, a recent Chinese financing deal "is a nice incremental source of funding for Paramount" that "helps us continue the turn of the studio." 

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