Viacom CEO Bob Bakish Talks Les Moonves

Viacom CEO Bob Bakish Talks Les Moonves
Image source: CNBC Video Screenshot

The following is the unofficial transcript of a CNBC EXCLUSIVE interview with Viacom President & CEO Bob Bakish, and CNBC’s David Faber on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street,” today, Wednesday, September 12th, live from Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference.

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Viacom CEO Bob Bakish on OTT, future opportunities, CBS's Les Moonves

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Sara Eisen: let’s get back to David Faber, though, who is live this hour at the at Goldman Sachs annual communacopia conference, sitting down with another big guest. David.

David Faber: Sara, thank you. We are joined by Bob Bakish, the CEO of Viacom, having just presented here at the Goldman conference. Nice to have you. Thank you for stopping in.

Bob bakish: great to be here, david. Thank you for having me.

Faber: I had David Zaslav join me not long ago and they were discussing some news this morning. They have added discovery’s networks to the hulu over-the-top platform and sling as well. You’re on sling, you’re on DirecTV now, two of the biggest, but you’ve said before you want to get on all of these platforms. Why aren’t you yet?

Bakish: so look, there’s a lot going on in the distribution landscape. We’ve come from a world where everyone at least in the u.S. Had kind of the same product to a world where distribution is fragmenting by price. And you know there’s still a vast majority of the people at, you know, $100 price points, big basic, etcetera, but you’ve got people at $40, you’ve got people at $10 maybe or $11 getting Netflix, and you’ve got people paying nothing which was the old free-to-air now -- and in that environment we’re focused on having the company representing Viacom brands across that. And as you said, in the OTT space which is typically this $40 space, we’re on DirecTV now, we’re on sling, we’re on Philo, we’re a small equity owner and we continue to look for opportunities to be represented in other places. So for example one of the things -- and I really should step back. Viacom is a story of turnaround and evolution. Right? And on the turnaround side we had a lot of progress on distribution.

Faber: and I want to talk to you about that. But specific to this --

Bakish: but coming back to it. So on the evolution side which is where this fits, you know, we’ve announced recently that we’re ramping up our studio production, including under our flagship brands like MTV and comedy central and nickelodeon. And that’s about getting those brands represented in third party platforms. So that consumers who might not have a full bundle has access to these brands, still think of them in their entertainment experience. And by the way, could be promotion to bring people into a bigger bundle. We’re very active in the mobile space. So I’ve long talked about entertainment, skinny bundles and the power of mobile. When at&t watch was announced and launched --two months ago at this point, we were part of that and we continue to be of others. And so I think our company continues to work to get incremental carriage across this landscape. Sometimes it will be a carriage of your existing bouquet of linear feeds. Sometimes it will be other kinds of product carriage.

Faber: well, I mean, I would think the end hope is that everybody watches you wherever they can when ever you can. You need to be available, right, on as many of these platforms as possible, don’t you? That’s some sort of economic value for your shareholders.

Bakish: you can. But part of what is going on is exclusive product. So for example, amazon prime video. We’re carried on that. We have Nickelodeon product there, we have a new paramount series Jack Ryan. So I don’t think it’s reasonable to assume that your traditional linear bundle will be everywhere the consumers are. You’re going to have to deal with the distribution landscape where there’s true in certain pockets and you have other representation in other pockets. I think that’s just the reality of the business.

Faber: you’ve talked for a long time about trying to find sort of a low teens maybe product out there that excludes sports that sort of is this really skinny bundle. Have you succeeded in figuring out a way to actually bring that to people?

Bakish: well, we got the first one, right? That’s exactly what Philo is, it’s a low price point entertainment skinny bundle delivered via OTT. It is now moving to its second phase. It just did a round and that round was to enable it to market the product. They never marketed the product. They wanted to shake it down first. So that’s the first of what we hope are many. At&t watch is essentially that, too. There’s no broadcast, there’s no sports in there, it is all entertainment product. It is a limited selection. So we think there’s more to come and, in fact, in every MVPD you know, cable deal we did, or renewal, or extension in the last year and a half, it includes provision that we’ll be added to any OTT skinny bundles they have. So there is more product to come. We’re in the middle of a distribution transition and we’re feeling good about the progress we’re making.

Faber: your controlling shareholder national amusements recently reached a settlement with a different media company known as CBS. But it’s a company that for quite some time – a period of time, your directors, and CBS directors, special committees were negotiating a potential transaction to bring the two companies together. In fact, as I had reported and had been widely reported, there had been an agreed-upon exchange ratio. So there was progress there. Is that a deal when you think about CBS in this landscape that you’re discussing that at some point could still make sense for Viacom?

Bakish: look, there’s been a lot written about this topic including very recently. And for me it’s easy to get distracted by stuff like that, but from the beginning, you know, back to November of ’16, my focus has -- was and continues to be running this company, moving it forward, delivering a turnaround, delivering an evolution and you know, on the turnaround, we got proof points and u.S. Distribution, where by the way we’ve sequentially improved our distribution revenue every quarter this fiscal year. We’ll have growth in the fourth quarter – the quarter we’re in right now, and we’ll have growth in 2019. We’ve improved our audience shares, we’ve tremendously turned around paramount. That was a company that lost $500 million --

Faber: now, paramount, I know you talk about it a great deal. It would seem to be fairly early here to be declaring victory though, wouldn’t it? I mean, I know it may be profitable second half of ’18 and I know you pointed to next year as a key turning point, but what gives you the confidence to sort of say “it’s been turned around”?

Bakish: it’s on a clear trajectory. I mean, we – look, it starts with different strategy, different management team. That management team led by Jim Gianopulos is a best in class team. If you look at what they’ve to-date, and they’ve done it with stuff they’ve inherited, whether it’s "A quiet place" which turned out to be – you know, it was a niche film that turned to be a breakout hit.

Faber: right, which was Greelit by the previous administration.

Bakish: Greenlit, but Jim got there three weeks after so they dealt with managing the production, keeping it on budget, they certainly did the marketing of it. That was a hit. He acquired "Book club," small film, turned out to be a nice mid-size hit. Very profitable for us. By the way, both of those films are doing incredibly well in the transactional window right now. Think of that as pay-per-view, ect. And then there’s "Mission," right? Which is the latest one. Sixth installment of the franchise, it will be the largest installment of the franchise. That typically doesn’t happen. Again, that speaks to disciplined approach to production, getting the film rights, marketing it.

Faber: you guys are gonna make money on that, right?

Bakish: we’re making money on it.

Faber: it’s not just all tom cruise getting it on the back end, is it?

Bakish: tom will do just fine on it but we’ll make money, too. And again, we talked about the slate for ’19. We’re tremendously excited. It starts with a Tyler Perry film which is based on the deal we did with Tyler last year, a cross house deal, starring Tiffany Haddish "Nobody’s fool." nice price point film. Will be a hit. Screened very well. So we’re happy with the film business. The TV business, $400 million from zero four years ago, will grow 50% in 2019 as we go from nine series on-air to 16. And it’s making hits. "13 reasons why" "The alienist" and now "Jack ryan." so the turn is definitely happening and we’re on the cusp of building a new business and that’s making films specifically for third parties, including the streamers. And you’ll hear more about that very soon. So I’m 100% comfortable with the direction paramount is going. It’s a fantastic asset and the team is doing a great job.

Faber: so but -- when your investor base thinks to themselves, “well, I understand there’s a turnaround in place, bakish has been doing a good job here. Things seem to be moving along,” but they’re sort of always met with the prospect of a controlling shareholder who wants cbs and viacom together. What do you tell them?

Bakish: I tell them to focus on the turnaround and focus on the the evolution. That’s what we just did and again, the proof points are very clear. On the turnaround side, it’s our domestic distribution relationships are in a totally different place. Our networks are doing better from an audience perspective. You know, on the evolution side, we are building new businesses for the future. We weren’t doing that before. Now we have a studio production business. That business will be a billion dollars in a couple years. Up from zero four years ago.

Faber: but do you still need, bob, to be part of a larger entity at some point given the magnitude of the changes that have been seizing this industry over the last decade?

Bakish: there’s no question that scale is valuable. And part of you know, what I did when I ran international was create scale there by getting the company to work together. We’re doing the same thing here, leveraging the combined assets. You know, even in our new approach to distribution -- leverages our ad business in addition to our product and also our production business because it’s a much more -- a wider deal. We’re creating scale with companies that we don’t own. Look at our ad sales business outside the united states where we have a number of sales houses in place including a joint venture with discovery and fox. So there’s a lot of ways to get the benefits of scale. We’re getting them more and more inside our company. We’re doing small targeted m&a to accelerate our strategies. They’re not scale plays per say, they’re accelerants. And that’s like Vidcon and Whosay and lately, awesomeness. And we’re feeling good about that.

Faber: during the course of the negotiations with cbs I had reported there was an objection on the part of Leslie Moonves, the former CEO of CBS, to your being involved in any way in a combition of the two. And your controlling shareholder, led by Shari Redstone of course, wanting your place in a combined organization. Did that upset you during the course of that? That this guy Mr. Moonves on one side didn’t want you a part of any organization that would have included the both?

Bakish: in a word, no. I mean, the world is a complicated place. I’ve got to focus on doing my job. My job is to move viacom forward, turn it around, evolve it, make sure it’s vibrant for the future and to benefit our shareholders, our employees and all our partners. That’s job one. That’s what we’re doing. People can say whatever they want about me. That’s fine. We’re going to let the facts speak.

Faber: and as somebody who took over a difficult situation, again, something that I spent a lot of time reporting on when the changes took place and you took over for Mr. Dauman and Mr. Dooley and the board clanged, do you have any advice for Joe Ianniello who is now stepping into an equally if not more difficult situation at CBS?

Bakish: look, I’d give him the same advice I give anyone, which is have a plan, build the best team you can and execute, execute, execute. Don’t get distracted, just go.

Faber: do you have any thoughts on Moonves’ legacy at all?

Bakish: there’s been enough written about that that I don’t have anything to add.

Faber: something I know you have added on and one of the reasons you may be here with us today is frustration at the stock price. Talking about the fact – I think it’s around five times, it’s a very low multiple.

Bakish: it’s a low multiple. That’s for sure.

Faber: when is that – when do you do think you break through? What in your mind is going to finally change the narrative to a certain extent? Or to the points that I was trying to make earlier, is there always going to be a cap on the stock price because of the expectation at somepoint there is going to be a deal between CBS and Viacom?

Bakish: look, as you said, it’s definitely frustrating. We are focused on putting points on the board. We are. Coming out of our third quarter I believe we started to get recognition for that. Coming out of our fourth quarter when we deliver not only sequencial improvement in domestic affiliate but growth in domestic affiliate, I think we’ll get some respect for that. When we talk about the numbers that paramount is generating, I think we’ll get respect for that. And you know, you don’t know what the catalyst to turn it is. But we have had a real change in sentiment. And I think that’s important.

Faber: do you need a new investor base? One that perhaps doesn’t expect the rates of growth that might have been the case previously for companies like yours? I mean, you’re still dealing in a world where you’re having subdeclines, at least for the traditional distributors. Does it demand over a period of time that people look at it as a free cash-generating machine that is turning around but is not going to be a growth engine?

Bakish: look, the fundamental thing we need to do is shift the narrative. Right? The constraint we have is people -- “yeah, yeah, you’re a domestic pay TV company.” and the reality is, that’s wrong. We’re a multiplatform global entertainment company. And that’s why this evolution point, building these new revenue streams, whether it’s studio production, our advanced marketing solutions business, our advanced ad business, which the strategy is to use that that to more than offset any decline on the –call it traditional side, that business is growing over 30%. You’ll see that growth on a percentage basis accelerate in ’19. Why will it accelerate? Because we have more product in the form of you know, Vidcon, in the form of whosay, which is branded content, in the form of awesomeness. We have more addressable inventory. You mentioned sling and directv now. Sling inventory is now 100% addressable. Which means we don’t have to deliver the same spot to everyone, we can deliver a spot to you. The DirecTV now inventory is on the verge of becoming addressable --

Faber: so much more valuable to your advertisers --

Bakish: higher price, higher yield. And that’s part of it. So people have to understand that the narrative is changed. That this is a different company with a real future ahead of it. And people are starting to see it. And look, I think it’s a great time to get involved with the stock.

Faber: alright, well, I’m going to leave you there on that nice little bit of cheerleading, bob. Thank you.

Bakish: thanks David. Great seeing you.

Faber: and you. Bob Bakish, CEO of Viacom joining us from Goldman's Communacopia conference. Sara and Carl, back to you.

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Jacob Wolinsky is the founder of, a popular value investing and hedge fund focused investment website. Jacob worked as an equity analyst first at a micro-cap focused private equity firm, followed by a stint at a smid cap focused research shop. Jacob lives with his wife and four kids in Passaic NJ. - Email: jacob(at) - Twitter username: JacobWolinsky - Full Disclosure: I do not purchase any equities anymore to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest and because at times I may receive grey areas of insider information. I have a few existing holdings from years ago, but I have sold off most of the equities and now only purchase mutual funds and some ETFs. I also own a few grams of Gold and Silver

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