Viacom CEO Talks Progress in Paramount Turnaround Plan

Robert Bakish-Getty-H 2019
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Bob Bakish told an investors conference Paramount was "once again an iconic studio" in film and TV.

Viacom president and CEO Bob Bakish on Tuesday at an industry conference talked up progress in his turnaround plan for Paramount Pictures.

"We love what we're seeing at Paramount. It's once again an iconic studio where people are bringing projects first. It's going to deliver in 2019 and continue to grow from there," Bakish told the J.P. Morgan Technology, Media and Communications Conference in Boston.

He put the box office improvement for Paramount's film release slate down to the hire of Jim Gianopulos as studio head in 2017. "It's really on a good track and the reason is new leadership, under Jim Gianopulos, who I brought in and who went on to rebuild the team," Bakish explained.

He pointed to the studio's new management's slate of movies like Bumblebee, which has marked a new direction for the Transformers series. "It's a better movie, the characters are better, the story is better, it's done in a more fiscally responsible way, and we're making nice money on it," Bakish said.

The Viacom boss also cited positive buzz around Rocketman, the Elton John biopic set to bow at the end of May. But Bakish pointed to the 2020 film slate as set to reveal the full potential of the Paramount Studios turnaround.

"You have films like the first of three Terminator movies we're doing, you have a film with Will Smith called Gemini Man, which looks amazing, and the second iteration of the Top Gun franchise," he said.

Bakish also touted a turnaround at Paramount TV after recent hires as part of a restructuring at the studio under Nicole Clemens, who replaced Amy Powell as president of the division. He pointed to the George Clooney-starring Catch 22 adaptation for Hulu, Jack Ryan on Amazon Prime having just received a third-season order and The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix.

"The TV business is also scaling very nicely," Bakish told the investors conference.

The Viacom boss remained silent on Wall Street speculation about a merger between CBS and Viacom, as each is controlled by Sumner Redstone and his daughter, Shari. The combination has been expected since Les Moonves, a major opponent of a merger, stepped down last year amid sexual misconduct and harassment claims.