ViacomCBS CEO Says Combined Firm Is World's "Most Important" Content Dealer

Bob Bakish - Getty - H 2019
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Bob Bakish on Monday spoke at the UBS Global Technology, Media & Telecommunications Conference in New York in his first investor conference appearance since the recombination of Viacom and CBS.

ViacomCBS is positioning itself as a content juggernaut, one that will sell its TV shows, movies and IP globally, CEO Bob Bakish told an investor conference on Monday.

"On a global basis, we will probably be the most important [content] dealer in the world," said the exec, adding that the combined company will have will have "one global content licensing force." The company will look to bundle its shows and movies to distributors to try and maximize value.

"You should think of ViacomCBS as a growth company, you should think of our path to growth as serving consumers globally," he added.

Bakish spoke at the UBS Global TMT (Technology, Media & Telecommunications) Conference in New York in his first public appearance since Wednesday's close of the mega-deal that recombined Viacom and CBS, bringing together such assets as Paramount Pictures, MTV, BET, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, the CBS broadcast network, Showtime and such streaming services as PlutoTV and CBS All Access.

Bakish also outlined several synergistic initiatives meant to drive incremental revenue at the firm. Comedy Central will air next-day replays of CBS' The Late Late Show With James Corden, and the MTV channels will go all-in on coverage of the Grammy Awards, which air on CBS. Likewise, the company will unite franchises like Star Trek, bringing together TV shows and films from the series. Bakish said there are currently two new Star Trek films in development.

In terms of strategy, the CEO revealed that the company will look to sell Black Rock, CBS' headquarters in New York. The company will also announce a share dividend in the next few days, and plans to embark on a stock-buyback plan. "We see an incredible opportunity in our own stock," Bakish said.

As for M&A, the exec said the company had no near-term plans.

“We don’t see any asset on the market or coming to the market in the near term that we have to own," he said, adding that strategic opportunities for incremental growth would be welcomed. "That being said, will we look? Of course we will look."

At Paramount, Bakish acknowledged that "the current quarter didn’t produce the results we wanted it to," but added that the studio is "in a different and far-better place today" than it was just a few years ago. "As we look forward, we are very excited about the pipeline."

The combined company's stock started trading on Thursday on the Nasdaq exchange under the ticker symbols "VIAC" and VIACA." Many on Wall Street have said the combined firm will have to prove the benefits of the combination over time.

Bakish and his team have promised a minimum of $500 million in cost synergies, as well as revenue synergies, for which the CEO previously outlined four key areas of opportunity: distribution, advertising, content licensing and streaming.

Some on Wall Street have also wondered if ViacomCBS will sell some non-core assets, such as book publisher Simon & Schuster and Watch! magazine, before possibly looking for another big deal. Bankers and analysts have speculated that the likes of Lionsgate/Starz and Discovery could be future merger partners for ViacomCBS, but Bakish has mostly signaled an interest in smaller tuck-in acquisitions, such as deals for content franchises as Viacom did in August with a deal for the Garfield property.

"This is a historic moment," Bakish said last week about the deal close. "Through the combination of CBS’ and Viacom’s complementary assets, capabilities and talented teams, ViacomCBS will create and deliver premium content for its own platforms and for others, while providing innovative solutions for advertisers and distributors globally."

Georg Szalai contributed to this report.