We talk to Viacom CEO Bob Bakish

We catch up with Bob Bakish following Red Carpet mag's attendance at the recent MTV EMA. Here, the president and CEO of Viacom International Media Networks (VIMN) takes Sat Bal on a journey from engineering to music and Amsterdam to India. 

Sorry we didn’t get to speak with you on the EMA red carpet (Katy Perry just wouldn’t stop chatting). What was going through your mind when you walked that carpet in Amsterdam?

While I was certainly excited heading to the show, stepping onto the red carpet took it up one hundred notches.  The energy and screaming of the fans as the most incredible talent from all around the world paraded down it was just amazing.  It certainly set the tone for what was to become an amazingly memorable night.

You spent your early years grappling with ‘Ordinary Differential Equations’ as an engineer from the prestigious Columbia University. How did these ODEs assist your ascent at MTV and Viacom?

Arguably they are both worlds apart and fundamentally the same.  What I mean by that is the specifics of ODE – an engineering-related math course – and management roles at MTV and Viacom are vastly different.  But, they both do share a personal challenge to succeed, requiring dedication, passion and, at times, a little luck.

 Pharrell demonstrates the world-class production values of the MTV EMA

What are your current priorities at Viacom and the long-range aims?

At the highest level, our priority is to continue to grow our business – which only happens by providing our target consumers engaging entertainment experiences, delivered through great brands across platforms all around the world.  This, in turn, lets us provide unique value to our key distribution, advertising and other business constituents, as well as the creative community at large.

How important is it to maintain the presence of the EMA as an ongoing live fixture in Europe and a distinctly European property?

Viacom’s corporate headquarters may be in the U.S., but we are fundamentally a global company catering to consumers worldwide.  The EMA is a world class event, of which one unique attribute is that it travels to a different great city across Europe each year.  This makes each show fresh and different – something that appeals to and is valued by consumers, advertisers and talent alike.  For VIMN, this is very important and certainly means the EMA will be an ongoing, distinct, property.  Next up, Glasgow!

Green Day at the EMA in Frankfurt

With launch programming, how significant is social media in creating a digital footprint before Be Viacom (the ad division) and your marketing teams apply more conventional promo methods?

In a word, very.  Social media has become the water cooler of our day.  It is where people all over the world talk about topics that are important to them, including, of course, entertainment.  In fact, entertainment is among the highest ranking topics of conversation in the space.  So yes, social media is an important component of developing franchises and shows, both new ones and returning series.  We used it for the EMA, of course, but another great example is how we used it to nurture interest in long form programming like Geordie Shore in the U.K.  There’s always a big buzz on social as we approach the launch of a new season, something we then build on in a multi-platform way with other more “conventional” marketing efforts.

You’ve said that MTV has a ‘shelf-life’ – is it now a matter of evolution for the MTV brand or new alternatives?

 This is a comment I made in Abu Dhabi that was taken out of context.  The point I was making is that as a brand targeted at rapidly changing youth tastes, we have to constantly reinvent ourselves, or risk facing irrelevancy, that our only constant has to be change.

At the Marriott hotel Amsterdam where Monster DNA staged its cocktail party and DNA launch event

 Is the Viacom18 foray into India performing on-track and is there any progress on the Eenadu TV stake increase?

Viacom18 is an incredible company that we operate on a 50/50 basis with our partner Network18.  The company has seen many successes, starting with the launch (and continued strength) of our powerhouse entertainment brand Colors, which is the #2 network in all of India and available in 70 other countries; we also continue to launch new services, including Comedy Central, Nick Sonic, and the upcoming MTV Indies. As far as Eenadu goes, I have nothing to say today but you should certainly stay tuned!

How about an India or Middle East ‘EMA’ ; property dilution or legitimate brand expansion?

The EMA is our flagship event property but it is only one of many events we do all around the world.  For example, in 2013, we held our VMAJ in Japan, MTV World Stages in Malaysia and Mexico, and MTV Crashes in the U.K., just to name a few.  I am confident we will bring the MTV brand to events in those places you mention in the not too distant future.  And who knows, maybe the EMA will travel outside of Europe one day.  It is after all, a world class event…

Have you found luck to be a dividend of sweat in this ostensibly glamorous business?

There are those who say you make your own luck.  Maybe yes, maybe no.  But what we know for sure is that running a business like Viacom International Media Networks takes a great deal of work – or as you say sweat -- every day from an incredible team all around the world.  And while that work is often engaging and fulfilling, it is rarely glamorous – EMA Red Carpets come only once a year after all!  That said, hard work, strong assets and a great team do pay very strong dividends for our fans, partners and shareholders.  And that’s what it’s really all about.

How would yesterday’s Columbia Bob Bakish view today’s VIMN Bob?

I think it is safe to say he would view him as fortunate.  After grinding it out in college and grad school, Columbia’s Bob might have been hoping for a bit less stress.  But the reality is today’s Bob works in an incredibly exciting industry, where each day brings new challenges and often rewards.  He has a wonderful family.  He gets to travel the world and work with great people, both inside and outside the company.  And from time to time, he gets to hear a little good music.  Who could argue with that?

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