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Paramount CEO Bob Bakish Acknowledges Wall Street’s Dim View Of Charter-Disney Battle, But Touts His Efforts To “Modernize” Pay-TV Relationships To Suit Streaming Era

Paramount Global CEO Bob Bakish said the Disney-Charter carriage dispute took a “notable” financial toll on many pay-TV stakeholders, but he touted his efforts to “modernize” the company’s distribution relationships for the streaming era.

Speaking at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia + Tech Conference, Bakish said last Friday was “obviously a notable day for the industry.” That was the first trading day after 18 Disney cable networks and eight ABC stations went dark on Charter’s Spectrum TV service. It brought a collective $15 billion hit to the market value of a number of programmers and operators, Bakish estimated, as the carriage impasse “was interpreted as a negative” by investors. Nevertheless, he continued, “all companies are not of the same point of view” when it comes to co-ordinating their efforts across linear TV, streaming and other lines of business.

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While there has been considerable angst about whether Charter, the No. 2 U.S. cable operator, will actually follow through on its threat to “move on” from the video business, Bakish said he has long been focused on future-proofing Paramount. He took the reins as Viacom’s CEO four years before its 2019 merger with CBS, inheriting a distribution mess from predecessor Philippe Dauman, whose infamously inflexible negotiating style alienated the company from a number of major distributors.

“We started thinking about the transformation of our company going back seven years, probably,” Bakish recalled, with an emphasis on “working with distributors in that regard to modernize the way we do business.” Echoing comments earlier in the day on the same stage by Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, Bakish said the carriage dispute “didn’t surprise us” given the inherent balancing act required by both ends of the pay-TV cord.

He pointed to co-marketing agreements forged with “every major distributor” in the U.S. for streaming services Paramount+ With Showtime and Pluto TV. Co-marketing is an issue at the core of the Disney-Charter tangle, with the latter accusing Disney of wanting it to charge customers twice for the same content (a characterization disputed by Disney). Internationally, Paramount also distributes streaming services via “hard bundles” with providers like Sky or Canal Plus, offering “zero subscriber acquisition costs,” albeit lower average revenue per user, Bakish added.

Deals in place for Paramount+ With Showtime will enable linear subscribers to the premium service to gain no-fee access to streaming app login credentials. That setup is “along the lines of what Charter was talking about” in its negotiations with Disney, he added. “We thought of this a while ago. We were specifically doing business that way. … We see that as accretive to our financial model and we see it as a natural evolution of the business to give consumers choice.”

Bakish added, “I would argue that not everyone is doing that. And when you look at what’s going on in the marketplace, you should ask yourself that question.”

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