LS: The acquisition of PlutoTV was a big moment for Viacom last year. When did you realize that was the right move to make?
BB: Initially, we were looking at the streaming space. We wanted to participate, but we thought building a Netflix clone didn’t make sense. We wanted to find another way in. We decided that the ad-supported, free category had a lot of potential.
It really clicked for me when I realized it was not only an incremental play, a streaming play, a DTC play, but it was a play that was integral to our strategy. It was a product that would allow us to offer our distribution partners a way to serve their whole subscriber base. It would give us a way to package linear and advanced advertising, giving our advertising clients and agencies broader reach in demos like 18-to-34. It would also give us a way to deploy our huge library of assets, many of which are unmonetized.
So it wasn’t just, ‘Oh, this is a new streaming play.’ It was that, plus it was integral to our business. The moment that clicked, I said, ‘We’re all in. We gotta get this done.’
LS: One of the big questions around the combined company has been ViacomCBS’s streaming and third-party production strategy. What’s your vision for how it all fits together?
BB: ViacomCBS will be one of the preeminent content companies in the world, and we’ll serve both third-party and our owned-and-operated platforms. The reason we can do that is our tremendous asset base, which includes 140,000 television episodes and 3,600 films. Right now, we have over 750 series ordered to or in production across the company, and of course, we’re producing films and short-form media. That allows us to serve both needs. To those that ask, ‘Can you do both?’ I say, ‘Yes, we absolutely can.’
LS: What do you want ViacomCBS employees to know?
BB: I want to say this is a tremendously exciting time. Yes, it’s going to be a lot of work. Yes, we’re going to have to make some tough decisions. But, we have a very unusual opportunity to come together and be one of the companies that shape media in the 21st century. I, for one, am going to be focused on that and driving everyone to maximize that opportunity.
The combination of Viacom and CBS will pay dividends for all of our roughly 20,000 employees and 20,000 additional freelancers, who will get growth opportunities. It will pay dividends for the talent that works with us because they’ll have access to a bigger platform. It’ll pay dividends to all of our commercial partners—whether they’re advertisers, distributors, or consumer products brands—because they’ll get access to an even bigger a trove of IP. And it’s certainly exciting to our new board of directors and the investor base.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Photos: David Williams