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CES 2019: Viacom CEO waves off CBS merger, says car is next content catalyst


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CES 2019: Viacom CEO waves off CBS merger, says car is next content catalyst

Viacom Inc. CEO Bob Bakish believes the hot topics of CES 2019 represent the next great consumer content catalysts.

Primarily, he is excited about driverless cars. Similar to when video became available on mobile devices, video programming is poised to expand again when commutes suddenly open for more entertainment.

SNL ImageConnected car dashboard
Source: SAIC Motor

The executive also pointed to increased fixed broadband speeds, notably with 5G infrastructure being built out in the U.S. as well as the promise from the cable industry to deliver a 10G service. While broadband to the mobile device and home are already a reality, the significant boost in performance on the horizon from these new technologies will only increase the availability and convenience of streaming video.

Bakish's predictions for increased video distribution opportunities dovetails with his vision for the company and the multiplatform strategy he has been executing since taking the helm in 2016. Since Bakish took the reins, Viacom acquired the digital video studio AwesomenessTV Inc. as well as the social-media influencer conference event VidCon. It launched Viacom Digital Studios to focus on short-form production for online distribution across social and video channels and invested heavily in providing addressable advertising to its marketing clients across platforms.

The company also has expanded its Paramount TV and movie studios to increase productions for third-party streaming providers such as Netflix Inc. and Inc.. Moreover, Bakish's team avoided having key networks dropped by Charter Communications Inc. by being more flexible on digital distribution and addressable advertising rights, he said.

"We're in a state of transformation in our industry, and you can look at that as a glass half empty or half full," he said.

Because the company is still in the midst of this turnaround, Bakish said he is not interested in vertical integration, bucking the trend across the industry. There have been periods where consolidation is in vogue across the industry, and this has not always turned out for the best, he said, dismissing, though not denying, chatter that the company would imminently combine with CBS Corp.

"The more things change the more things stay the same. This is now the third time this narrative has come up in a relatively brief period of time," he said of the CBS rumors, adding that he and his team are focused on executing on the assets they have.

When asked if partnering with more streaming providers and distributing on social media dilutes Viacom's linear TV and other content assets, Bakish said the business is no longer about controlling distribution but more about generating brand impressions across platforms, with many of those platforms representing addressable advertising opportunities.

"If you're going to watch 'The Real World' this year you're going to watch it on Facebook Inc., and it's going to be interactive. You could think of that as an [ad-based video-on-demand] space," he said. "I think that's very much the future, and unless you realistically understand that's what's going on … you'll never grow your company."

Additional coverage from CES 2019:

Tech policy execs call for privacy, infrastructure reform to boost 5G

IBM taps crowd-sourced data streams to better predict the weather

LG teases 5G phone, rollable TV

Samsung teases 5G phone, touts leadership in the burgeoning technology