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Lessons from Viacom CEO's international experience

Bob Bakish may be relatively new to his position as CEO of Viacom Inc., but the years he spent running Viacom's international operations could provide some strong lessons for his new role.

Speaking at an industry conference Jan. 18, Bakish noted that when he first began leading Viacom's international networks in 2007, he found "a confederation of independent nations."

While the international networks shared brands and some programming, Bakish said the networks nevertheless operated fairly autonomously market by market.

"Pretty quickly, I came to the conclusion that was a missed opportunity, and that we really needed to operate more like a true multinational company where we connected leadership and we had a shared pipeline and we might have shared original programming and a whole set of other things," Bakish said at NATPE Miami 2017, a conference and marketplace devoted to content and distribution.

Notably, Bakish said Viacom's domestic operations have become similarly disconnected in recent years.

"One of the things that was true about Viacom circa 2016 is it had become very siloed. The studio, Paramount Pictures, operates almost totally independently from the pay networks and even the brands operate pretty independently from each other," Bakish said.

Using the same language he applied to the international business, Bakish noted: "To me, that's a big missed opportunity. We really need to work on ways we can leverage our combined scale."

In terms of what that might mean in day-to-day operations, Bakish said it could mean shuffling creative content that might be better suited on one network versus another, greater cross promotion or smarter ad deals.

Overall, Bakish said he expects to see more collaboration across MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and Spike TV on a global scale. He also expects to better utilize Paramount to ensure that the combination of Viacom's assets "create advantage or incremental opportunity" through their shared ownership.

"In many respects, the biggest opportunity was really leveraging and making Viacom operate as a more integrated media company," he said.

Asked during the conference whether Viacom might shutter some brands or rationalize its network portfolio, Bakish answered firmly in the negative.

"There's definitely no plan to shut down brands or anything like that," he said.

He does believe that the company as a whole may benefit from a greater focus on the flagship brands.

"As we think about Viacom going forward I think one of the missed opportunities was some of our programming felt a little too scattered," he said, explaining, "We really don't have critical mass in some of the networks, so we need to focus that a bit more."

As an analogy, he noted that Viacom's international operations identified the "core six" networks: Nick Jr., Nickelodeon, MTV, Comedy Central, Spike and Paramount Channel.

While Bakish emphasized he is not suggesting there is or will be the same core six in the U.S., he said there was a strategy of investing disproportionately in key networks over others. And this strategy ultimately paid off overseas.

"I do think as we look at the landscape, we need to make sure we are supporting brands in a way that they'll have a vibrant future going forward," he said, adding that a key part of that will be ensuring "our flagship networks really have the resources — that is the programming, marketing, distribution that they need."