To Revive Viacom, Its New CEO Is Shifting Resources to 6 ‘Flagship’ Networks

Bob Bakish will also rebrand Spike

'The reality is we now have a clear path forward,' said Bob Bakish. Getty Images
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Almost two months into his tenure as Viacom’s new permanent president and CEO, Bob Bakish has unveiled his plan to turn around the struggling company: by shifting resources to six “flagship” networks with global revenue potential.

Going forward, Viacom’s highest priorities will be on what Bakish called its “flagship six”: BET, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr. and Paramount—which will be rebranded from Spike.

These brands offer “a compelling, valuable and distinct brand promise,” said Bakish, who spoke to investors about the plan this morning during Viacom’s earnings call. Each of them offer global revenue potential in linear TV, digital, off-channel and theatrical.

Additionally, each flagship brand will contribute one or two co-branded films to Paramount’s movie slate each year. That will start with Nickelodeon, which is planning a slate of four films through 2020. First up is Amusement Park, an animated feature with Jennifer Garner and Mila Kunis, which will premiere in Summer 2018, and then debut as a Nickelodeon series the following year.

Spike will rebrand as The Paramount Network early next year, and will serve as “Viacom’s premier general entertainment brand,” said the company in a release.

“This is about focusing resources to drive the highest possible performance.”
Viacom CEO Bob Bakish

Bakish stressed that the networks that are not part of the “flagship six”—including TV Land, VH1, Logo and CMT—are still “strong networks” and “will not go away, but they don’t necessarily have global or theatrical potential.”

But because Viacom isn’t increasing its overall network spending, those other networks will lose some of their resources, which will be shifted to the core six. “This is about focusing resources to drive the highest possible performance,” Bakish said. “It’s not a light switch for those to be shutting down.”

The “flagship six” focus is part of Viacom’s new five-point strategic plan to “chart a new course.” The other four points: revitalize and elevate its approach to content and talent, deepen partnerships to drive traditional revenue, make big moves in the digital world and physical world and continue to optimize and energize the organization.

“The reality is we now have a clear path forward,” said Bakish. However, “there are a lot of pieces we have to execute on.”

Some of Bakish’s changes will be executed later this year: Chris McCarthy, the VH1 and Logo president whom Bakish tapped in October to run MTV as well, is prepping a new MTV slate for the upfront with an eye on Bakish’s new edict.

Under McCarthy, MTV will retreat from its push into scripted programming, which “didn’t really work,” said Bakish. Now there will be “a better balance” of programming, including more reality, as well as live programming. “Scripted is not going to go away, but the balance is going to shift,” Bakish said.

Over the holidays, MTV began airing a two-hour block of Friends, which helped lead the network to strong ratings among its younger audience. However, “it is a bridge strategy. We needed to reset MTV in a variety of ways,” said Bakish, who suggested that programming could shift when McCarthy’s new slate begins to rollout in the fourth quarter.

Viacom’s realignment comes after a year of infighting and uncertainty about the company’s future. For much of last year, Viacom was consumed by a fight between then-CEO Philippe Dauman and founder Sumner Redstone, over the future of the company. The parties finally settled their differences in August, and Dauman agreed to depart as president and CEO of Viacom.

On Dec. 12, parent company National Amusements, which owns 80 percent of the voting shares of both Viacom and CBS, pulled the plug on a potential CBS-Viacom merger, two and a half months after it asked the company companies to consider reuniting.

That same day, the company announced that Bakish, who had been serving as acting president CEO and president since Nov. 15, has been named permanent CEO in light of the CBS-Viacom decision. (Before Bakish, former COO Tom Dooley had been acting president and CEO, but he departed the company in November.)

Now that Bakish has set Viacom’s new course, the real work will begin. Two of the networks in Viacom’s “flagship six” suffered double-digit ad revenue declines last year. Comedy Central was down 13.6 percent, while MTV was down 12.3 percent, according to Standard Media Index.

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.