Viacom Inc. named Jim Gianopulos the new chairman and chief executive of Paramount Pictures, handing the veteran film executive one of the toughest assignments in Hollywood: turning around the struggling Melrose Avenue movie studio.
Viacom Chief Executive Bob Bakish announced the move Monday, bringing to a close a monthlong search to replace Paramount’s former chairman, Brad Grey, who was ousted in February after a string of box-office disappointments and years of financial declines.
Gianopulos, who turns 65 on Tuesday, has spent three decades in the film business. He will oversee Paramount’s film and television operations worldwide, including production, marketing and distribution. He will be charged with expanding the studio’s global footprint and bolstering its film slate with co-branded releases from Viacom’s flagship television networks, such as MTV, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central.
But the longtime Fox executive will face a formidable task given Paramount's deep woes, analysts said.
“This is a huge opportunity for Jim Gianopulos and his team,” BTIG Research media analyst Richard Greenfield said. “But naming a studio executive is the easy part — the hard part is putting up films that will make money.”
The move to Paramount was a speedy rebound for Gianopulos, who was ousted from his position running 20th Century Fox Film last summer after 16 years. The Rupert Murdoch-controlled company decided to shake things up and put former DreamWorks executive Stacey Snider in charge of filmed entertainment.
“I don’t think he expected to leave Fox like he did, that probably irked him, so he’s got a lot to prove,” media analyst Michael Nathanson said.
Gianopulos takes over Paramount as Hollywood is struggling to adjust to dramatic changes. Younger audiences aren’t going to the theater as much as their parents did and DVDs are no longer a reliable cash cow.
Gianopulos ran Fox during a period when it produced such hit franchises as “X-Men,” “Avatar” and more recently, “Deadpool.” His arrival could be a much-needed boost for Paramount, which has ranked no higher than sixth place out of the major studios in domestic box office since 2011. The studio lost $445 million last year.
The studio has weathered multiple flops, including “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows,” “Rings” and “Monster Trucks,” which resulted in a $115-million write-down for Viacom. Paramount’s television operations — while ramped up in recent years — still lag behind those of rivals at a time when premium television shows are in high demand.
Paramount has long been managed for quarterly profits, which has discouraged filmmakers and led to a shortage of projects in its pipeline. Gianopulos probably will mine his strong relationships with top producers in Hollywood to repair Paramount’s reputation of being a difficult place to work.
“Jim Gianopulos knows how to make major motion pictures that people want to see rather than complex financial deals that do little more than minimize financial risk,” said Jeffrey Cole, director of USC’s Center for the Digital Future. “His appointment sends a major signal to actors, writers and producers that Paramount is really back in the movie business.”
Cole added that Fox probably will scramble to reinforce its relationships with top-flight filmmakers such as Ridley Scott and James Cameron, who worked well with Gianopulos in the past.
Gianopulos is known for his grasp of international film distribution. He will face several immediate problems at Paramount. The uncertainty about the studio’s leadership has caused problems, putting the brakes on a recent co-financing with Chinese firms Shanghai Film Group and Huahua Media worth up to $1 billion.
That deal was secured by Grey and tied to a film slate he unveiled shortly before he departed. Bakish has since signaled an overhaul in how the studio will make movies. Viacom Chief Financial Officer Wade Davis met with the Chinese co-financiers in Shanghai for four hours earlier this month to keep that deal on track.
Since taking over the New York-based Viacom in December, Bakish has worked swiftly to kick-start the company that was reeling from more than a year of management turmoil. The previous CEO, Philippe Dauman, was ousted last summer by the Redstone family, the company’s controlling shareholders. Viacom Vice Chair Shari Redstone and her father, Sumner, were incensed that Dauman wanted to sell a 49% stake in Paramount to Chinese investors, and that plan promptly collapsed.
Bakish has forced out several senior executives who managed troubled divisions or who were not viewed as team players. Bakish wants Paramount to work more closely with the company’s TV operations and has expressed frustration that such Comedy Central stars as Amy Schumer and Jordan Peele have turned out hits for rival film studios.
“Jim is a remarkably talented executive with all the tools — strategic vision, strong business expertise, deep industry and creative relationships — to bring films to life that resonate throughout culture and deliver commercial results," Bakish said in a statement.
Gianopulos’ future had been the subject of much speculation. He was considered to be a candidate to replace Sony Pictures’ outgoing CEO, Michael Lynton, and had been in talks to lead Legendary Entertainment under Chinese owner Dalian Wanda Group.
Gianopulos is expected to have green-light authority over all but the most expensive movies, those that cost more than $100 million to make.
"Fox is a financially disciplined company — they make movies to make money — so he should be a good fit for Paramount," said Nathanson. “But it is going to take some time — it won’t be a quick fix.”
Viacom shares rose 2.9%, or $1.25 a share, to $44.31.
6:15 p.m.: This article was updated with additional reaction from analysts.
1:25 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details about Jim Gianopulos’ appointment.
This article was originally published at 11:15 a.m.