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Viacom to benefit from Disney/Fox “distraction”

Viacom CEO Bob Bakish has that the Disney/Fox merger represents a “significant positive” for the business, which stands to benefit from exec changes and creative “dislocation”.

Speaking at a Broadcasting Press Guild event in London on Wednesday (19 September), Bakish said the merger “has provided a very real opportunity to acquire talent in the form of executive talent and creative talent and projects – both on- and off-screen – as there is dislocation associated with change of ownership and consolidation.”

“That’s also true with the AT&T and Time Warner deal. Longer term, if these entities are to vertically integrate, that presents another great opportunity for Viacom,” he said.

Noting that “distraction and dislocation” in the US over the next year will be “good for Viacom”, Bakish said the deals reaffirm the value of a studio in the current climate of consolidation.

One of Bakish’s central tenets upon securing the CEO role two years ago was to ramp up a previously “undervalued” Paramount Pictures, whose recent credits include feature films A Quiet Place and Book Club.

Meanwhile, Paramount Television produced Netflix hit 13 Reasons Why (right) and Amazon’s Jack Ryan.

“[The current climate] highlights the value of the Hollywood studio,” he said. “There aren’t many of them and Paramount is one of them. This shows how valuable these assets are.”

Bakish also highlighted his plans for UK broadcaster Channel 5, which was acquired by the business in 2014 for £450m.

The exec – who ran Viacom International Media Networks prior to his promotion in 2016 – said C5 hopes to be an integral part of a long anticipated joint SVOD between UK broadcasters including Channel 4, ITV and the BBC.

He said the business is “giving some thought” into an on-demand service between the channels that would look to rival SVOD giants Netflix and Amazon.

Viacom hopes to leverage C5’s catch-up AVOD service My5 – which now carries third-party content from the likes of Viacom-owned BET, PBS America and Little Dot Studios – as part of a “broader strategy”.

Bakish also addressed C5’s recent cancellation of Big Brother, confirming that he had been a part of the decision-making behind axing the Endemol-produced entertainment format.

“Was I aware of the decision before it was made? Yes. Do I support it? Yes,” said Bakish.

“As we looked at plans for 2019 and beyond, we wanted to increase the proportion of original content we own and control on the network,” he said.

Big Brother has produced audiences, but we thought the time was right to take the next step, and that included taking that Big Brother money and spending it on original commissions.”

Bakish, who was interviewed at the RTS London conference on Tuesday (18 September), cautioned that he is “not looking to create another Netflix” because “that space is becoming crowded and capital intensive.”

The exec said Viacom had plans for an advertising-supported “front door” branded offering.

The AVOD portal will draw in viewers by providing them with free digital content, while driving them to its broader content offering.

The platform would be part of a broad three-pronged approach to digital that encompasses niche services built around existing brands, such as the Noggin service that is already provided in the US and Latin America.

Those niche services could also be part of a B2B2C service, he said, citing the example of Amazon Channels, where Viacom has used as a distribution channel in Latin America.

Also referenced was the relatively untapped potential of mobile distribution, which Bakish called the “most exciting” opportunity for the company, but did not reveal any specific plans for a new mobile-centric platform.

C5 inks drama deal with Kew

C5 has unveiled the first of its fledgling drama slate, and inked a three-year partnership with Kew Media Group to distribute the programmes.

The channel has ordered 10-part drama Clink (working title) for 5Star. Set in a female prison, the programme will be exec produced by Colin McKeown.

The title is currently in pre-production.

C5 has also ordered four-part crime thriller 15 Days from Boom Wales. Based on Welsh-language production 35 Diwrnod, which was first commissioned by S4C in 2017, the drama begins with a brutal murder and goes backwards to identify the killer.

Elsewhere, Darlow Smithson Productions is making a feature-length murder mystery for C5, inspired by a 1920s murder.

Sebastian Cardwell commissioned all programmes.

With reporting from Digital TV Europe