ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish Has a Plan to Compete With Netflix and Disney

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Bob Bakish, CEO of ViacomCBS
September 24, 2019

Bob Bakish has a plan for the streaming wars.

The CEO of the new ViacomCBS media conglomerate, which is expected to be formalized by the end of the year, told Cheddar that he wants the newly combined company to compete at every level of the marketplace ー from ad-supported platforms like Pluto, which Viacom purchased earlier this year, to subscription video on demand products.

"We think uniting these assets is a tremendous opportunity in the marketplace," Bakish said. Customers will have a free entry point to test the streaming waters through Pluto, which Bakish said has already grown from 12 million to 18 million active users in the first six months of the year. ViacomCBS can also use Pluto to market its subscriber products, which now include the preschool programming service Noggin and BET+ in addition to CBS All Access and Showtime, which have a combined 8 million subscribers.

In a highly Balkanized media landscape, it's critical to be everywhere the viewer is, Bakish said. "If you want to get the largest addressable market, you have to be across [platforms]."

Reuniting after 13 years apart, ViacomCBS will have a $30 billion market value with combined annual revenues of $28 billion. But the true value proposition for investors and consumers alike is the content, Bakish said. The combined library will include 140,000 television episodes and 3,600 movies with a combined budget of $13 billion for content spending, which Bakish said puts it in an "exclusive club."

With so many ways to consume entertainment now, Bakish said viewers are hungry for content ー whether it's new original series or old hits like Seinfeld, which Bakish just spent an undisclosed sum to bring to the Viacom cable networks in 2021. That strategy is what Bakish calls "content asset utilization" and it's one that is being employed across the legacy media giants like NBCUniversal and WarnerMedia as well as competitors like Netflix.

According to reports, Warner recently paid a reported $425 million and as much as $1 billion to secure the streaming rights for Friends and The Big Bang Theory, respectively; Netflix likely paid more than $500 million for Seinfeld; NBC paid $100 million to bring The Office to its streaming service Peacock.

Shares of both Viacom and CBS have faltered since the two companies announced they would merge. Investors are worried about size and synergies at the new company, which will still be controlled by the Redstone family's National Amusements group. But it's the size and scale that will give ViacomCBS the muscle it needs to play in the same league as bulked-up competitors like WarnerMedia and Disney. Bakish said he's not actively looking to get back into the acquisition game to get even bigger ー Lionsgate and Discovery have been rumored to be targets ー at least until the merger is complete and the assets of both companies are integrated.

"We believe we have the goods to bring to the table," he said.