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ViacomCBS CEO talks synergy plays post-merger

With the merger finalized just last week, ViacomCBS Inc. President and CEO Bob Bakish spoke about quickly tapping corporate synergies while also announcing that an icon of the broadcast business could become a thing of the past.

Speaking at the UBS Global TMT Conference on Dec. 9, Bakish said CBS' Black Rock headquarters in Manhattan will be put up for sale. Located at 52nd Street and Sixth Avenue, Black Rock has been the broadcast network's headquarters since 1964. Last year, CBS sold off its Television City headquarters in Los Angeles for $750 million.

"It's a very material asset. It is not an asset we need to own," Bakish said of the landmark building at the event, the company's first since the merger between Viacom and CBS was completed on Dec. 4. The companies split back in 2016.

Bakish noted that the sale of some noncore assets, such as real estate, could help ViacomCBS generate funds it could use for its stock repurchase program.

As for cost-saving opportunities within its own content assets, Bakish said CBS (US)'s "Late, Late Show with James Corden" will re-air the following day on Comedy Central (US).

Paramount is providing additional programming assets to subscription streaming service CBS All Access and premium network Showtime. CBS All Access, which added kids programming earlier this month to round out its lineup, will not only feature content from Nickelodeon (IN) but also showcase content from Viacom's cable portfolio.

In addition, CBS' Network 10 in Australia and Viacom's Channel 5 in the U.K. are collaborating on a new drama called "Breathless."

Bakish said CBS and Viacom properties will be bundled together in the upfront advertising sale period.

While the combined ad sales force will be active in early 2020, Bakish said there will not be a material impact until the recombined company takes scale as it goes to market during the 2020-21 upfront. Media companies look to sell schedules on linear and digital properties ahead of the upcoming TV season during the upfront negotiating period in late spring.

ViacomCBS is also expected to wield more clout in the affiliate fees arena. Bakish said Viacom networks have not secured positions on a couple of the virtual providers, but those gaps could be filled as CBS seeks renewals with those carriers in 2020.

All told, Bakish said about one-third of CBS' retransmission-consent deals come due in 2020. "That allows us to improve the power ratio of fees to audience share," he said.