Viacom CEO Says He's Mulling Small Acquisition Targets

Bob Bakish - Getty - H 2019
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Also: At a Las Vegas conference, Bob Bakish said he'd "abstain" from commenting on a potential merger with CBS.

Bob Bakish on Wednesday squashed a rumor that Viacom is looking to purchase some regional sports networks, like the ones Disney will be selling after it purchases them — and more assets — from 21st Century Fox.

But given the opportunity to predict whether Viacom might merge with CBS, Bakish, the CEO of the former, said he'd "abstain" from commenting.

The Viacom chief, speaking in Las Vegas at the Citi TMT West Conference, which coincides with the Consumer Electronics Show in the same city, said he's more focused on smaller acquisitions, using recently purchased VidCon and Awesomeness as examples. The latter was purchased for less than $100 million, whereas three years ago the digital production house was valued at $650 million.

Bakish said that the Disney-Fox deal, coupled with decisions by Disney and WarnerMedia, now owned by AT&T, to launch their own streaming services this year, presents opportunity for Viacom because it means less content is available to sell.

"A simultaneous reduction in supply from trusted suppliers combined with a resurgence of Viacom is the perfect setup for our company," he said.

The exec also told the Wall Street analysts in attendance not to expect blackouts of Viacom channels as carriage deals are renewed because of the template used at the end of 2017 when Viacom renewed with Charter Communications in a deal that included lots of extras, like co-producing content, collaborating on advanced advertising and more on-demand content.

"We've renewed or extended over half of our sub base and we have gone dark nowhere," he said. "As we look to the next renewal ... we're doing it from a place where we have a strategy that we know works, we know adds value and is not all about having some Mexican standoff to see who blinks first."

Bakish congratulated Paramount for a successful turnaround, using the latest in the Transformers franchise as an example: Bumblebee, he said, is "solidly profitable" while its predecessor in the summer of 2017 lost more than $100 million.

Bakish also praised the film studio's strategy of leveraging Viacom TV brands — Nickelodeon, MTV and BET — the upcoming example being What Men Want, a reimagining of What Women Want, the 2000 film starring Mel Gibson. The new version, produced by BET Films and Paramount Players and distributed by Paramount Pictures, is due Feb. 8 and stars Taraji P. Henson. The movie has "tested through the roof," he said.

This being CES, Bakish also weighed in on some of the technology he has seen at the show. 

He said there's "a clear onslaught of incremental broadband" coming and all of entertainment can profit from that.

Bakish also noted the plethora of "autonomous vehicles" and said that they are "unlocking the last bastion of video-free time." It will lead to more video in the backseat of cars and, eventually, in the front seat as cars become driverless, he said. "That's really exciting."