ViacomCBS CEO "Optimistic That Our Fall Schedule Won't Be Materially Disrupted"

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Bob Bakish also discussed the state of Paramount's film slate and why holding back releases for theatrical runs makes sense.

ViacomCBS will be in good shape for the fall TV season if productions can restart by the summer after the novel coronavirus pandemic, CEO Bob Bakish said on the company's earnings call Thursday. 

"We are optimistic that our fall schedule won’t be materially disrupted … assuming we can get back to production sometime this summer," he told analysts. "We are confident we will have compelling content in the fall."

The company is looking forward to bringing sports back this summer, "and we are going to be one of the first with golf" from the PGA, he said. "The nature of golf probably makes that a little bit simpler than other sports." He also shared that the company "set up a soundstage in Radford on the CBS lot to film both boxing and Bellator events" without audiences for now. 

Meanwhile, "CBS has a very strong and stable schedule," Bakish said, with more than 80 percent of shows renewed. "Because there was a possibility of a writers strike, we ensured we had a backlog of shows ready to go, so that's an asset we can draw on."

He said the firm felt good about soundstage-based productions like sitcoms given they are more controlled, while dramas will start with stage work when production reopens, with location shoots left for later. And unscripted shows could "modify production to include more controllable environments," the CEO also shared. 

Showtime is "currently set and solid through the third quarter," Bakish added.

Asked about movies, Bakish said Paramount finished principal photography on eight features just before the pandemic shut down business, including Coming to America, Snake Eyes, Clifford and Without Remorse. "Those are all being worked on remotely in postproduction, so we will be in good shape when things open up," he said.

Asked about films pushed back amid the pandemic, Bakish said that was a key decision "to preserve asset value." He said, for example, that with A Quiet Place Part II "we didn't waste it, we saved it." But the firm sold The Lovebirds to Netflix as that was an "attractive monetization opportunity," he added. The studio's next possible release, if the virus crisis allows it, would be the early August new SpongeBob film, with Bakish saying, "We hope it will release." 

He also mentioned such delayed films as Top Gun: Maverick, concluding: "We got great films." What if people don't feel safe to go to theaters? "We are going to assess it on economic consideration," Bakish said.