Feb 17, 2021

By Nicole Bitette
“We want consumers to appreciate all the exciting content we're bringing to market. At the end of the day, that's what will drive consumer behavior and adoption.”

Our In the Office With ... series, gives ViacomCBS executives the opportunity to reveal a little bit about who they are, how they lead, and what drives them in the day-to-day.

If you ran into Naveen Chopra at a party (in a COVID-free time) and asked him what he did for a living, he’d probably tell you he worked in media, or maybe in finance—a humble way to describe his role as Chief Financial Officer for ViacomCBS.

Chopra, who joined ViacomCBS as EVP, Chief Financial Officer in August 2020, previously worked at Amazon as CFO Devices and Services. He was interim CEO and CFO at Pandora, and spent more than 10 years at TiVO, working as both CEO and CFO. This intersection of tech and media set Chopra up for his current role, a specific opportunity for which he was waiting.

“I've always wanted to go deeper on the media side, and there are only a handful of really large-scale influential media companies out there. So the opportunity to take a leadership role at one of those companies is something I jumped at,” says Chopra.

“It was an opportunity to join a company at a critical inflection point in the transition from traditional media to streaming, which is a great opportunity for an executive. It’s both challenging and professionally rewarding,” he adds.

At the time Chopra joined ViacomCBS, the company was already leaning heavily into streaming with its CBS All Access service, Noggin, SHOWTIME’s streaming app, BET+, and the leading free, ad-supported service, Pluto TV. On March 4, CBS All Access will transform into Paramount+, featuring a mix of live sports, breaking news, and a mountain of entertainment from its portfolio of brands.

ViacomCBS’ investment in streaming is why Chopra took the job — but it’s also one of the major challenges. Chopra spoke about ViacomCBS’ future in streaming, how he’s convincing investors that we’re “all in,” and how he remains focused on long-term value amid stock market fluctuations.

 


Nicole Bitette: ViacomCBS is leaning heavily into streaming with the upcoming launch of Paramount+, as well as continued investment in Pluto TV and Showtime OTT. What message are you hoping this sends to investors and analysts?

Naveen Chopra: We’re making it clear that we’re committed to streaming. People have sometimes described us as a company that's stuck in the middle, and I don't think that's the case. We are aggressively transitioning to a streaming-led world, but we're doing it in a smart, differentiated way.

We want people to understand how our approach to streaming is going to be unique, both in terms of what we offer our consumers and our strategy for having what we call the “linked ecosystem” of Pluto TV, Paramount+, SHOWTIME OTT, and our more specialized streaming services, like BET+ and Noggin.

We want consumers to appreciate all the exciting content we're bringing to market. At the end of the day, that's what will drive consumer behavior and adoption.

NB: What excites you about the future of ViacomCBS?

NC: I'm most excited about the content we're creating. When you think about the diversity of what we do, between CBS, our cable networks, SHOWTIME, Paramount Pictures, our international businesses, and obviously what we’re doing in streaming, we produce a phenomenal amount of high-quality content. We have some great franchises and brands. The opportunity to think about how you use those assets to transition into the streaming world is exciting. It is far from easy, don't get me wrong, but I've never been one to shy away from a challenge.

Naveen Chopra, CFO, ITOW

NB: Speaking of challenges, what do you see as the biggest challenges ahead?

NC: Several things. Streaming is a very, very competitive space where we compete with very large companies, many of which have diverse businesses they can use to fund and support investment in streaming growth. Amazon and Apple are great examples of that. We are coming to the market slightly later than others which is both headwind and tailwind. Sometimes there are benefits to being a late entrant. We have learned from what others have done, and what we have done with CBS All Access.

I think the other challenge we face is that our source of profits and cash is primarily our traditional linear business, which is not growing the way streaming is. We have to execute a delicate balancing act between managing those businesses and continuing to extract as much earnings and cash from them as we can. Meanwhile, streaming—which we're investing in—puts pressure on these businesses and limits their growth.

It's not an uncommon problem. Netflix had this issue early in its evolution as well, when they transitioned from DVDs to streaming.

NB: How has your background at TiVo, Pandora, and Amazon influenced the way you approach work and leadership at ViacomCBS?

NC: TiVo was all about learning how to operate as an underdog. I always used to describe the company as a tiny boat with a massive wake, because it was under the media’s microscope. We had to learn to use that to our advantage because we were so small compared to our competitors..

Pandora was a little more of an exercise in leadership. Within the month after I was hired, six of the nine C-level executives at the company were fired. All of a sudden it was like, this is your thing. You have to rally the troops. You have to figure out the path forward. Pandora was really where I cut my teeth on streaming, the economic models, the technology, the advertising business, how you acquire customers, and how you build distribution partnerships, all of which is proving to be highly valuable as we think about some of the things we're trying to do here at ViacomCBS.

I've often described Amazon as my opportunity to go back to business school. It was a way of seeing how this tremendously successful company operates and makes decisions and manages its people and its talent. I have taken a lot from that.

 

Naveen

NB: You’ve mentioned that you’re very passionate about increasing diversity and inclusion. Can you share any details of the processes you’ve introduced into your organization, or the efforts of your team?

NC: I'm most proud of what we call our diversity working group in finance. It's a volunteer group. It's all people who opted in and said ‘This is something I care passionately about and want to help influence.’ They have a whole slew of programs and ideas that explore and rethink our approach to attracting and developing diverse employees. With their input, we are reviewing everything, from how we recruit and hire to how we evaluate employees and make decisions on promotions and organizational changes. They’re also exploring how we mentor and develop talent. Separately, we are also thinking about how we use our scale to drive diversity outside our own company. For example our treasury team is reviewing how we deploy our cash—who manages our cash, who do we invest our balance sheet with, and how do we push some of that opportunity to more diverse businesses?

I have found my role here to be primarily about providing support and commitment to the effort and the mission. Once people are comfortable that they have support at the top, they really open up and get more creative about how we can tackle the problem.

NB: As CFO, how do you balance short-term and long-term market feedback? How do you consider the day-to-day changes in our stock price and analyst commentary?

NC: I really try not to get too reactionary to the short term, which doesn't mean I can entirely ignore it. Sometimes short-term reactions have significant implications. I try to use the short term to inform the long term.

Short term reactions provide an opportunity to step back and say, ‘What are these people really reacting to? Are they seeing something that perhaps we're blind to that is going to be a bigger issue in the long term?’ In that case, you have to think about how to adjust your strategy or your execution plan in order to address that issue. But in many cases, short term turbulence can knock you off course so you can’t lose sight of your destination. It’s really difficult to build a successful company if you're just focused on managing the day-to-day stock price.

 

Small Talk

What’s the best advice you’ve received? You're only half as good as your biggest successes and half as bad as your biggest failures.

Describe your hometown. I grew up in a little town outside of Boulder, Colorado. To give you a sense of it, I went to high school with about 230 kids. I was the one Asian-American kid in the class, and there was one African-American student. Sadly, we reinforced every possible stereotype of our respective ethnicities: the African-American student was the captain of the basketball team, the football team, and the baseball team, and I was on the debate team, the Honor Society, and the tennis team. So it wasn’t quite South Park but it certainly had a few similarities. That experience definitely played a part in my realization of the importance of having an explicit focus and education regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion.

What are you currently obsessed with? I am a little obsessed with Peloton. And Billions.

Survivor. The thing I love about Survivor is that it’s been around forever. I remember watching it with my friends in college, and now I watch it with my kids. It's one of the few things we watch as a family, where everyone is truly interested. My kids are dying to meet Jeff Probst. Probably at least once a week, they say, “We thought once you took the job at ViacomCBS that we would get to meet Jeff Probst.”

What are 3 qualities you look for in a hire? Passion, intellect, and leadership.

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