Content, not surprisingly, is king
Right from the start, Dauman wanted to make sure that everyone knew what Viacom stood for -- content. Whether you're Disney
Dauman had some great ammunition on this front. He immediately brought up Viacom's crown jewel, the MTV networks, and mentioned the global reach of MTV and Nickelodeon. Indeed, these channels have extended their brand equities to international markets and captured a plethora of mindshare. I believe that these networks will continue to fuel Viacom's growth, since they possess a ton of creative, intellectual capital that consistently appeals to a valuable young demographic. As Dauman pointed out, the MTV networks produce "cutting-edge" programming.
Financial strength leads to cash flow
Dauman affirmed his belief in Viacom's ability to create rigorous growth in return on invested capital and deliver high cash flows. He wants to use that cash to make appropriate, selective investments in small acquisitions. Dauman believes in getting smaller assets at an early stage of development, as opposed to buying big, expensive ones, to get in on the action early.
I'd think it odd if Viacom suddenly made an expensive acquisition. After all, the "smaller is better" mentality evident in its recent split with CBS
What about the risks?
Viacom's MTV networks thrive on their ability to target specific young audiences with programming that reflects their lives and attitudes. But as these demographics embrace the Internet, are TV advertising revenues at risk? After all, cable networks now face competition from upstart broadband channels that can easily distribute the same kind of programming that MTV and its sister channels have been doing for years.
Dauman wasn't fazed by such concerns. He believes that the brands possess a deep enough connection with their respective audiences to remain relevant in the digital age. Besides, he has no intention of letting his cable assets remain entirely on TV. He seems to understand that young people access programming everywhere these days -- iPods, websites, mobile phones, whatever. He intends to colonize these new mediums with shows from Viacom's portfolio. In addition, he sees synergy between the company's online and offline assets.
I think he's correct here. There's no reason why online exposure can't cross-promote traditional mediums. No matter how popular online distribution becomes, I think the death of TV advertising revenues is greatly exaggerated. TVs and their viewers aren't going anywhere, and companies will always be able to reach eyeballs in this fashion. And while major networks like CBS are losing audiences to cable television, Viacom stands to gain from that same migration. Besides, the success of content depends less on where it's airing and more on how good -- and how marketable -- it is.
A turnaround for Paramount
The Paramount studio operation could use some popular products right about now. Dauman is pleased with what's happening here -- he thinks the acquisition of the DreamWorks pipeline and the upcoming slate of Paramount films will yield many box-office bucks.
In addition, he seems to believe in leveraging Viacom brands to benefit Paramount. Films carrying the MTV or Nickelodeon banner can differentiate the product and draw audiences. Dauman cited an upcoming Nickelodeon-branded film, Charlotte's Web, as a potential Christmas winner. He also mentioned MTV's Jackass: Number Two, which opened at No. 1 this past weekend with a $29 million domestic tally, according to Boxofficemojo.com.
I want to see Paramount cutting only deals that add value for shareholders. Everyone is talking these days about making the movie business more profitable and no longer allowing stars to capture the bulk of the profits; witness Tom Cruise's falling out with Paramount. Dauman should use MTV and Nick films to keep costs low; they can be made cheaply (Boxofficemojo.com says the latest Jackass movie had a reported budget of about $11.5 million) and promoted through Viacom's existing and well-known marketing apparatus. Viacom's current creative talents, not the employment of overpaid stars, should be the studio division's top driver.
Dauman was also asked about further monetization of the Paramount catalogue on DVD. He believes that some opportunity remains, with additional library titles as yet unreleased on home video. He seems more excited about the upcoming Paramount movie slate, perhaps because DVD sales are maturing, according to some reports. But he did imply that releases of TV product for the medium will be a good business. Viacom can draw upon 3,000 titles from the CBS, Paramount, and Spelling libraries.
One key element here is the introduction of new disc formats such as Blu-ray and HD-DVD. All media companies, including Viacom, will benefit when players reading these formats reach a critical mass. In my opinion, the first real salvo in the war between the competing formats will be fired when Sony
Foolish final thoughts
Philippe Dauman clearly has a grip on the challenges he faces. I think he can balance the vital role of content in a media company, while simultaneously recognizing that capital must also go to new distributional platforms. If he can leverage the main strengths of the company's cable-network division and brand portfolio, he should be able to create synergies between its departments. Keep beating the drum about the cable brands, Philippe -- and keep leveraging them for all they're worth.
Don't change that channel! Here's further multimedia Foolishness: