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Viacom CEO Vows to Address ‘Points of Pain’ and Unveil Strategic Plan This Week

Variety logo Variety 2/6/2017 Cynthia Littleton
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Viacom president-CEO Bob Bakish vowed to address the media giant’s “points of pain” in the coming year during his address to shareholders Monday at the company’s annual shareholders meeting.

Bakish told board members and the handful of shareholders who attended the meeting at its Times Square headquarters that he would unveil “a new strategic vision and framework” for the company’s on Thursday after the release of its fiscal first quarter earnings.

“Despite all the noise surrounding this company, it’s important to recognize we have an incredibly strong foundation,” Bakish said.Bakish didn’t elaborate much but said his goal was to take a more “holistic” approach to managing the company’s assets, namely Paramount Pictures and its domestic and international cable operations. That includes implementing “a unified strategic view on how we’ll build digital scale,” he said.

Bakish specifically vowed to improve the performance of MTV and Paramount. He emphasized that Thursday’s presentation will include a “strategy for Paramount going forward” to turn around the struggling studio. He talked up the importance of the film co-financing deal that Paramount struck last month with China’s Shanghai Media Group and Huahua Media. The agreement “will help de-risk Paramount, improve the studio’s financial performance and strengthen our balance sheet,” Bakish told investors.

The formal business portion of the meeting lasted under 10 minutes as five proposals — two of which had to do with advisory shareholder votes on executive compensation — were all swiftly approved with no questions by more than 95% margins, thanks to the overwhelming voting control exercised by majority shareholder National Amusements, the holding company for Sumner Redstone’s empire.

Bakish gave a brief overview of the previous year, which was tumultuous as the Redstones sparred with former chairman-CEO Philippe Dauman before reaching a settlement agreement in August. Sumner Redstone also faced legal fights on both coasts over his mental competency. Viacom and the Redstone-controlled CBS Corp. also flirted with the idea of re-merging for a few months in the fall before National Amusements called it off.

Bakish said he confidence that Viacom would be able to return to growth as an independent company, and he cited his perception of a new “can-do spirit” among the company’s staffers now that the uncertainty about the company’s future has eased. “We are focused on addressing this company’s biggest points of pain and restoring topline growth,” he said.

One of the three queries from shareholders that Bakish fielded during the closing Q&A session was his view of the business climate in the U.S. under President Trump. “It’s very early days,” he said. “Nobody has a clear picture…(but) within that there’s a clear potential for an enhanced business climate which would be good for Viacom,” he said.

The meeting marked the formal transition of the Viacom board, which was remade last summer by Viacom vice chairman Shari Redstone. She recruited five new members who were again affirmed by voting shareholders on Thursday, while four past board members ended their tenures.

Shari Redstone attended the 9 a.m. meeting just hours after she arrived in New York from Houston, where the Bostonian was delighted by the New England Patriots’ rally to victory at the Super Bowl. She sees the Patriots’ come-from-behind win as a good omen for Viacom’s future fortunes. “I live for football and I live for this company,” Redstone said.

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