Bob Bakish’s Paramount Mandate: Global Mindset, “Local Execution”

Bob Bakish’s Paramount Mandate: Global Mindset, “Local Execution”

Paramount wants to increasingly approach its networks, streamers and other assets with a truly global mindset. The conglomerate is working to structure reporting lines within the organization with that in mind — rather than relying on traditional regional clusters — and executives are now sharing additional details of that strategy.

For example, “piloting” content from international businesses locally, such as in Britain, with an eye on a possible expansion into other markets, including the U.S., is now a regular goal. “I was talking to Ben Frow who runs programming for [U.K. broadcast network] Channel 5,” Paramount CEO Bob Bakish told The Hollywood Reporter. “His thesis is … the real opportunity is about piloting in the U.K. as a step towards a global franchise, not necessarily trying to launch a global franchise out of the gate,” which has often proven difficult.

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He pointed to CBS’ season 2 of the BBC remake Ghosts. “It does come out of the U.K., so that’s an example, even if it wasn’t an in-house example,” Bakish said. “But it’s an example of essentially piloting a show, making it for the U.K. and then upscaling it. So I think that’s probably the nearer-term opportunity. I think Ben is probably right. And the good news is, they are now having a conversation with that end in mind, versus it randomly happening.”

“They,” in this case, includes Pam Kaufman, president and CEO of international markets, global consumer products & experiences, and the executives overseeing the company’s big free-to-air TV networks in the U.S. (CBS), Australia (Network 10), the U.K. (Channel 5), Argentina (Telefe) and Chile (Chilevision), who spoke during a recent “Bob Live,” a regular series of internal Paramount events for employees that feature Bakish and other execs talking about their businesses. Those execs include George Cheeks, president and CEO of CBS and chief content officer of news and sports at Paramount+, Maria Kyriacou, who has served as Paramount’s president of Australia, Canada, Israel and the U.K. but is now overseeing all of Paramount’s internationally originated scripted content and its four free-to-air networks outside the U.S., and Dario Turovelzky, who is leading Paramount’s scripted content from Latin America along with Telefe and Chilevision, reporting to Kyriacou. 

Bakish said when he was the company’s international CEO — he led Viacom International Media Networks from 2011 to 2016 — the top leadership in the U.S. wasn’t fully ready for a global approach to free-to-air, cable and streaming businesses. “The big difference is that our team called something ‘glocal’ back then, part global, part local, but it really wasn’t. It was international and local. So I had this international layer, because the U.S. guys didn’t care about international. Today, we have an aligned leadership team, and we are going after things globally. So the time has come to actually really do global leadership of free-to-air, streaming and cable networks, combined with local execution,” Bakish described.

For the refocus, he had a key ally in Kaufman, whom he tapped for her new role in late July and who knew the new formula from experience. “The company was historically run by geography. We had a Latin America business, a Europe business, an Asia business etc. And that was a great business decision at the time. However, the industry has evolved,” Kaufman told THR. “Our operating model for the consumer products business has been truly global for years, with leaders in every key market who ladder up to centralized business leaders. This structure works. It has delivered tremendous results.”

So, when she and Bakish first spoke about her expanded role leading the international markets, “we immediately talked about bringing the same structure to our broader business, working together to unify the business segments and organization even more across countries and cultures.”

After all, Kaufman said, at Paramount Global “we really value international content, and we also have our globally recognized powerhouse franchises like Star Trek, SpongeBobPaw Patrol, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and so forth that fans around the world love, and hits like YellowstoneTulsa King with globally recognized superstars like Sylvester Stallone, and the upcoming 1923. We also have amazing formats, like NCIS, The Challenge, and MTV’s Shore franchise – these series travel well around the world, and they also make great local content.” 

At the same time, such internationally originated content that will or has traveled to the U.S. includes Los Enviados from Paramount+ Mexico (which aired as The Envoys in the U.S. on Paramount+, with season 1 becoming the most-watched Spanish-language series on the streamer), A Gentleman in Moscow (U.K.) and Yonder (South Korea).  

But there is room for more programming to travel from and to various places as long as executives keep an eye out for opportunities, Kaufman said. The name of the game in the globalized and streaming age is one that is often is associated with acquisitions. “This is all about leveraging our scale,” she said. 

Across the industry, traditionally, “it was kind of like: ‘good luck over there in England or Australia’,” Kaufman told THR. “Now, great content is great content, no matter where it originated, and international content is more popular than ever in the U.S. If a series is working outside the U.S., whether it’s from the U.K., Australia or Mexico, it has the ability to travel.”

This is why the company now has global business leaders. Tom Ryan, for example, oversees global streaming, with executives like Paramount+ international chief Marco Nobili and Pluto TV international head Olivier Jollet reporting into Ryan and Kaufman. Meanwhile, Cheeks runs the company’s global broadcast operation, with Kyriacou overseeing the free-to-air networks outside the U.S., reporting into Cheeks and Kaufman. Chris McCarthy leads the MTV brands and networks globally along with Showtime, with Kelly Bradshaw responsible for international markets. And Brian Robbins oversees Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon globally, in addition to all kids content across streaming, with Jules Borkent responsible for Nickelodeon in international markets. “We are all working incredibly closely together to bring this unified, global strategy to life,” said Kaufman.

“We are leveraging the power of one Paramount and our global footprint to broaden reach and fulfill our mission of entertaining the planet,” said Ryan. “Internationally beloved franchises, such as Star Trek, Top Gun and Paw Patrol play an important role in driving subscriber acquisition in new markets. However, engagement and retention require a programming mix inclusive of international originals [Paramount+ this summer set the goal of commissioning 150 international originals by 2025], such as The Envoys, regionalized versions of hit series, such as The Challenge: War of Worlds, and local live events and sports, such as the MTV EMAs and UEFA” soccer matches. 

Leveraging movies across countries and platforms is also key. “A powerful franchise is like a beacon that draws in loyal and passionate audiences from around the world and can build brands and grow platforms globally,” said Brian Robbins, president and CEO of Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon, as well as chief content officer, movies & kids & family at Paramount+. “As examples, both Paw Patrol and Sonic drive momentum and growth as they journey from platform to platform and market to market, where they keep building their reach and popularity ten-fold.”

Paramount’s TV operations have also hunted for opportunities for global success stories. “With our new global approach, local hits can quickly be transformed into global hit franchises, allowing us to capitalize on our local content teams to serve as global development – this new approach enables us to move faster, more efficiently and have a higher hit ratio,” said Chris McCarthy, president/CEO of Paramount Media Networks & MTV Entertainment Studios.

In free-to-air TV, the new approach required a big change though. “Our free-to-air business is really strong,” Kaufman highlighted. “We have some of the biggest channels in the world with Chilevision, Telefe, Channel 5, Network 10 and, of course, CBS. But they were very separate in the way the content was rolled out and decisions were made. So, we unified our free-to-air business under George Cheeks, one of the best leaders in the business. His remit is to not just run the business globally, but also to make sure that we are focused on how we are sharing our content and resources.” 

Explained Cheeks: “We are building a framework and strategy for our five free-to-air-networks to work together across entertainment, news and sports to scale more content with local focus and global potential. We’re looking at global IP development, franchise expansion, production hubs and joint content acquisitions, to name just a few areas.”

Bakish lauded his leaders for being ready and eager to take such a global view. “Right now, we’re looking at an amazing show that is popping in Argentina and determining what other countries and platforms we can bring it to,” Kaufman said without providing further details. “That kind of content migration is a priority. Everyone holds up Squid Game as the gold standard. We have incredible international dramas in the pipeline, and our intention is to bring more of them to Paramount+ in multiple markets.”

Asked about the benefits of making content that can travel beyond single markets at a time when Paramount is expanding its international original output, the Paramount CEO explained: “We will have an idea and we know that it has a next iteration, and we plan for that. You plan for success.”

Bakish told THR that it would take a bit more time for this effort to bear full fruit though. “It’s pretty cool,” he said. “But we’ll look back at it two years from now, and it’ll be very cool.”