Viacom CEO Touts Upside in Original Content, Calls Paramount's Brad Grey "Secret Weapon"

Dorothy Hong

Philippe Dauman tells an investor conference that animated movies and TV production will be a boost for the conglomerate's film unit

Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman told an investor conference on Monday that he was "pretty excited" about the entertainment conglomerate's outlook given upside opportunities for the company.

During a luncheon keynote speech at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference in New York, Dauman was asked about the film unit's outlook, saying that the studio remains focused on tentpole franchises, with the new Mission: Impossible and Star Trek films in the works now. He said tentpoles allow the company, among other things, to tap into international box-office growth. He also called animated films a profitable addition to the business that will help boost the profitability of Paramount.

Dauman also said that the TV production business of Paramount is "off to a faster start" than he had expected. In that context, he called Paramount boss Brad Grey the company's "secret weapon" given his experience in the TV space. Grey used to be a partner of talent management firm Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, where he executive produced such shows as The Sopranos.

"We’re doing that at a very low overhead," Dauman said about the burgeoning TV production operation. "Now is a good time to be in the production business."

Dauman spent most of the time on Monday answering questions about his firm's TV business. He was, for example, asked about investor fears of ratings declines and increasing digital usage. Dauman once again said Viacom wants measurement firms to better measure digital viewing and said it could make "a lot more" of its content available on new platforms. But even in-home viewing today is "not currently captured by the C3 currency," he said.

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Dauman called driving multi-platform viewing and monetization a key focus for his management team. Improved measurement and monetization tools will help Viacom "unleash" its ability to make more and more current content available on digital platforms, Dauman said.

Dauman emphasized the importance of offering true TV Everywhere, saying pay TV operators must work with content firms to make it a reality. And he said the company would launch new services and shows on digital platforms, saying: "We have a lot of real estate that we can build beautiful new homes on."

Dauman also called mobile an area of upside. He said the company would launch new products and programs on mobile next year.

The demand is there, and the pricing is holding up, Dauman said in discussing the state of the advertising market. Are TV dollars moving online or to other digital platforms? He said, "broadly, we are all moving there." He said there is not enough high-quality, well-produced content online.

The Viacom CEO also cited dynamic ad insertion on VOD an emerging business, echoing comments made earlier by CBS Corp. research chief David Poltrack.

He also mentioned international as a key growth driver. The company has launched 30 networks over the past year and will add more, he said. And it has recently acquired U.K. broadcaster Channel 5. He mentioned that Viacom could produce some content in Britain and signaled it could take advantage of production incentives there.

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Dauman on Monday also once again lauded the importance of having more original programming on Viacom's networks. He said the recent announcement that Spike would be rolled out internationally, starting with the U.K., became possible due to original shows. He predicted Spike would be a growth brand for Viacom for years to come. "We have a lot of channel launches ahead of us," he said.

Nickelodeon is putting out more animated shows, while Comedy Central, MTV and other channels are also adding new shows and bringing back established ones. He said the company was excited about the launch next year of Larry Wilmore's new show, which will replace The Colbert Report.

While originals are becoming more important, "the value of acquired programming to us is diminishing," Dauman told the UBS conference.

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Asked about U.K. broadcaster Channel 5 and why it became Viacom's biggest acquisition in years, Dauman said the U.K. has long been the company's biggest foreign market and the network is a content engine. He said Channel 5 would get a bigger portion of its programming budget allocated to originals. And he said the company would skew the network younger over time. The company can not only co-produce shows, but also drive Viacom's consumer products business in Britain, he said.

The core of the company's international business continues to be Europe, but India, Latin America and Africa are the bigger-growth markets for the firm, Dauman said.

Discussing China, he said if the company got through some of the legal and cultural restrictions, there could be opportunities there in a few years in the non-traditional TV business, Dauman said.

Email: Georg.Szalai@THR.com
Twitter: @georgszalai

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