Viacom Chief Financial Officer Wade Davis is spending considerable time in Los Angeles to improve the performance of struggling Hollywood movie studio Paramount Pictures, after two troubled years at the box office.
Davis is spending “about half of his time” at Paramount in Los Angeles, Viacom’s acting chief executive, Robert Bakish, said Monday at UBS’ annual Global Media and Communications Conference for investors in New York.
Deploying one of the most senior Viacom executives to Los Angeles to lead an effort to shore up the studio’s finances underscores the seriousness of the problems at Paramount, which lost nearly $450 million in fiscal 2016.
“Paramount needs to have a better year than it had in 2016,” Bakish said flatly. He did, however, note that the century-old studio remained a prized business as one of just a handful of “globally recognized” film operations, and has other lucrative assets, including a library of old movies — including “The Godfather,” “Ghost” and “Saving Private Ryan” — that remain valuable.
Davis, who is based in New York, has been working on arranging film slate financing deals for Paramount and other issues, Bakish said. The disclosure follows last week’s management shakeup that saw Paramount tap a former Sony Pictures executive, Andrew Gumpert, as chief operating officer, replacing Paramount’s longtime COO, Frederick Huntsberry.
Gumpert starts in January and will report directly to Paramount Chairman and Chief Executive Brad Grey, who enjoys the support of Viacom’s board, including Vice Chair Shari Redstone.
Earlier this year, Viacom’s controlling shareholders — Sumner and Shari Redstone — made it clear that Paramount was a centerpiece of the company, and it needed to be nursed back to health. The ill-fated move by former Chief Executive Philippe Dauman to try to unload 49% of Paramount to Chinese entertainment giant Dalian Wanda Group infuriated the Redstones and sparked the boardroom revolt.
As part of a legal settlement in August that included Dauman’s ouster, the Redstone family — through their investment vehicle National Amusements Inc. — stipulated that Paramount would undergo close scrutiny. The studio’s former vice chair, Rob Moore, was sacked in late September, in part, because he strongly advocated for the stake sale to Dalian Wanda.
Bakish didn’t comment further on Paramount’s management, but noted the studio’s upcoming slate shows promise.
“Arrival,” starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, has earned more than $100 million in worldwide box-office sales since its Nov. 11 release. And Viacom has high hopes for “Office Christmas Party,” starring Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston and Rob Corddry, which comes out this weekend.
“We are on a path to get to a better place,” Bakish said, but he stopped short of a strong endorsement, saying: “It’s early days.”