Toodles To Bob The Builder

I’m not quite the paramount (pun intended) example of an MTV generation kid; I kinda missed that sweet spot by a decade.  And even my niece and nephew, my de facto kids’ focus group in the day in a similar manner to how my peers were inclined to secure what they believed to be conclusive generational insights, were PBS kids, especially my nephew.  He loved THOMAS THE TANK ENGINE, and when I’d visit we actually would set up the toys and the tracks joyously, all the while humming that incessant tune.

So when I discovered that the same British company that developed THOMAS for television was also behind a Nick, Junior series called BOB THE BUILDER,  even my highbrow-ish sister and brother-in-law signed off on gravitating to cable.  He loved Bob as well, eager to reply to that series’ catch phrase “Can we fix it?” with an enthusiastic “Yes, We Can!!!”.  You’d probably not be surprised he’s now heading for medical school.  He’s got a lifetime of fixing things ahead of him.

And as I became more facile with the Viacom portfolio through my exposure to the incessant cross-network promos that a preschool network with limited advertising would provide, I learned that one of the driving forces behind how international successes wound up in the Viacom camp was another nice Jewish boy from New Jersey named Bob Bakish.  Bakish came out of top tier executive positions domestically to become first the president of MTV Networks International and then the broader portfolio of Viacom International Media Networks.  Among the accomplishments in his tenure that Wikipedia rattles off:

During his tenure, Bakish expanded Viacom’s international footprint,[26][36] and VIMN was Viacom’s most successful division; revenue doubled, and VIMN grew to more than 200 television channels.[25][37][2] Under his leadership, the Paramount Channel was launched, offering movies and television shows in Europe, Latin America and Russia.[25][36] He oversaw the expansion of networks such as Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and Spike to an increasing number of foreign markets,[25][36] and helped orchestrate the acquisition of Channel 5 in the UK and Telefe in Argentina.[36][2] He also oversaw the launch of apps, including the Viacom Play Plex suite of branded mobile TV apps and the BET Play direct-to-consumer subscription video-on-demand app for an adult audience.[25][38][26][39][40]

Talk about Bob the Builder.

With that track record, Bakish was a popular and deserving choice to take over the reins of Viacom itself, one of the last significant moves that Sumner Redstone made while he was still fully capable of making such decisions.  Here’s what he did in just his first two years on the job:

In early 2017, Bakish laid out a five-point plan to turn Viacom around and return the company to steady profitability. This consisted of focusing on Viacom’s six flagship brands: BET, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr. and Paramount; revitalizing content and talent; deepening distributor and advertiser partnerships to drive traditional revenue; increasing digital offerings, consumer products and live experiences; and optimizing and energizing the organization.[46][47][2][48][49][50] The strategy also included having Paramount Pictures develop films and franchises connected to Viacom television content; additionally, Spike TV would be rebranded as and converted to a broad-based general entertainment channel, the Paramount Network, in early 2018.[49][47][46][2][48][51] 

In 2018, Bakish’s implementation of his five-point comprehensive strategy was credited with Viacom’s much improved finances and improved company morale and focus.[54][55] In 2018, under Bakish’s direction and in accordance with his plan to capture younger and digital markets, Viacom acquired digital platform WhoSay,[56][57] internet video conference VidCon,[58][56][57] and online television network AwesomenessTV.[59] 

In September 2018, due largely to his turnaround of Viacom, The Hollywood Reporter listed Bakish as #20 in its The Hollywood Reporter 100: The Most Powerful People in Entertainment 2018.[74]

In a nutshell, he’s a pretty darn good executive.  And from all reports from those who worked for him, far more accessible and collegial than many of his predecessors.   But most of that success and building occurred under the tenure of SUMNER Redstone.   SHARI Redstone doesn’t strike anyone as someone who likes being around construction sites of any kind.

Hence, it’s anything but surprising to see what emerged, over a weekend no less, and just before Paramount Global reports its quarterly earnings.  CNBC’s Sun Valley syncophant Alex Sherman broke the details yesterday:

Paramount Global’s board is preparing to fire Chief Executive Officer Bob Bakish as soon as Monday morning, according to people familiar with the matter.  Bakish has lost the trust of Paramount Global controlling shareholder Shari Redstone, according to people familiar with her thinking. Redstone wanted to make a move to oust Bakish before Paramount Global’s carriage negotiation with Charter Communications, which is pivotal for setting a value for the company in its merger talks with Skydance, the people said. 

Paramount and Skydance have been making headway on a final deal, under which Bakish would leave Paramount, CNBC reported Thursday. Skydance intends to name its CEO David Ellison to helm Paramount, according to people familiar with the matter.

In private, Bakish has dissented against the merger, claiming that it could dilute common shareholders, according to people familiar with the matter.

And as the impressive FINANCIAL TIMES quartet of  Christopher Grimes in, James Fontanella-Khan, Anna Nicolaou and Antoine Gara added this morning:

His expected ousting would be the latest twist in a messy and prolonged drama at Paramount, the storied Hollywood company behind films and television shows such as The Godfather, Titanic and Star Trek. Paramount, which is competing against larger rivals such as Netflix, is losing billions of dollars on its streaming service while struggling with the long-term decline of its television channels.

Shari is now apparently blaming Bakish for these declines as well as the lack of movement on sales of assets such as BET and Showtime that never materialized.

Yet when the Associated Press’ Jonathan Landrum, Jr. reported on the bubble-bursting of the BET sell-off last summer, do note who–or, rather what, was credited:

Paramount Global decided against selling the majority stake of the network.  Paramount notified bidders…about its decision to conclude the BET Media Group sale process, said a person familiar with the decision who was not authorized to speak publicly. The person said the company determined maintaining a heavy stake in BET creates more value for Paramount than any of the proposals after consulting with a couple highly-experienced financial advisors.  Some popular suitors included actor-director Tyler Perry, music mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs and businessman Byron Allen.

THAT certainly has aged well.

And as the FT four further noted, things have become even more incideniary with said board:

Some Paramount shareholders have come out in opposition to the proposed structure of the Skydance deal and have threatened to sue if it goes ahead. An all-cash $26bn bid by Apollo for Paramount was rejected recently, and since then four members of the Paramount board have withdrawn their names for re-election in June. John Rogers, chair and co-CEO of Ariel Investments, said on Friday that “a deal that favours Shari at the expense of the rest of us [is] extremely problematic”.   “It does feel like a company in disarray.

Many of the principals involved with the Skydance side beyond proposed CEO David Ellison are accomplished builders of their own.  Jeff Shell, in particular, has built networks and businesses globally, and the RedBird entity that currently employs him also has Jeff Zucker in its camp.  If there is anyone around whose track record is as impressive as Bakish’s, it would be Shell.

If indeed Shari Redstone’s motivation was solely to leave the company in good hands, it would almost be understandable that Bakish would be moving on and cashing out.  One way or the other, he won’t be missing many meals nor compromising quality anytime soon.

But it’s patently evident that she has little of the loyalty and enthusiasm to build things that her Daddy had, and certainly none of what Bob Bakish has demonstrated that helped her pad her personal portfolio.

So it’s gonna be, at best, a bad day at what was once housed at Black Rock, and more than a few reporters are snarkily awaiting who or how Paramount discloses its earnings and, more importantly, its intended direction.  Assuming they opt to provide any details of consequence at all.

It’s apparently no longer Bakish providing the moat around the Rock.  More like brackish.

So, Shari-leh, can we fix it?

We’ll be waiting for your response.

Until next time…

 

 

 

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