ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish On Production, ‘SpongeBob’ Theatrical Release And Revisiting Work With COVID-19

Hitting topics that are top of mind in Hollywood, ViacomCBS Bob Bakish said stalled production is a money saver now but needs to restart by mid-summer; that movies will be released in theatres as planned if they’re open and enough people are going; and that COVID-19 has spurred cost efficient work that will inform its business even as the pandemic abates.

As Bakish and ViacomCBS unveiled first-quarter financials, they were met with as much love today as they were savaged three months ago when the chief executive of the newly merged company described a vague digital concept called ‘House of Brands,’ killing the stock, which never recovered. But it surged today, up over 18% at one point, on more definitive plans for CBS All Access, gains for Pluto TV and overall numbers that beat Wall Street expectations and were up sequentially from the previous quarter.

Currently the company’s in good shape content-wise with its shows on the air through a combination of creating some programming virtually and leveraging current and library content. It’s also saving money, Bakish said on a conference call Thursday. He called stable with little impact to on-air product so far — “as long as we can get back into production, albeit with modifications, by mid-summer.” He mentioned mid-summer as key several times.

As for film, he said the studio shifted its release schedule to later in the year “to preserve asset value” – meaning the big bucks flowing from theatrical release. “A Quite Place Part II we pulled at the last minute. We didn’t want to waste it. We saved it. But we are going to open them when it makes sense.”

“Our film business will depend on theaters opening in major market,” he said. Meanwhile the company saving money here as well. Pressed on whether theaters being open is enough – if there’s still a paucity of moviegoers that is, he said, the company will have to see. A SpongeBob sequel is set to be the first release in August.

“We will obviously look at the market and … if there is sufficient critical mass at theaters to warrant an August 7 SpongeBob release. It is too early to call if it is definitely going to be released or it is definitely not going to be released.”

He said COVID-19 will accelerate the company’s cost savings as its work processes are “informed by how we have had to rethink our operations over the last sixe weeks. We have shown we can do more with less.”


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