Viacom’s Bakish Predicts Sports-Free Skinny Bundle By Year-End

Says distributors need to be flexible to move consumers ‘up and down the funnel’

Viacom CEO Bob Bakish continued to herald the emergence of sports-free programming packages, predicting at an industry conference Wednesday (Sept. 13) that a programming offering devoid of feats of athletic prowess will make its way to consumers by the end of the year.

At the Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference Sept.13, Bakish stopped short of confirming a report yesterday in the Wall Street Journal that Viacom, along with Discovery Communications, Scripps Networks and A+E Networks were working on just such a package, priced at under $20 per month. But he did admit it was a pretty good idea.

Related: Sports-Free Streaming Bundle Closer to Launch: Report

“We are highly confident that a product will exist at this [$20] price point in the U.S. in this calendar year,” Bakish said at Communacopia. “We think that is a positive catalyst for pay TV and certainly for Viacom given our positioning as an entertainment company.”

In June, Bakish was a bit bolder, claiming that Viacom was in “very advanced discussions” to be part of a sports-free streaming entertainment package that would retail for between $10 and $20 per month. And Discovery CEO David Zaslav has long expressed a need for a similar offering. But there was no announcement today – Bakish decided to keep any additional details close to the vest.

According to the Journal report, the networks are preparing for a soft launch of the offering in the coming weeks, but were still trying to work out which of their channels would be included in the offering. Also a concern is how to best soften the blow to their existing MVPD customers, who are still paying the freight for most networks through affiliate fees. Bakish seemed to address that latter point at the Goldman conference, adding that a non-sporst bundle would allow distributors to move more price conscious customers “up and down the funnel.”

“You want to bring people into the ecosystem and as they like product, which might be lighter version, and move them up, and if they want to spend less, instead of churning them you can move them down,” Bakish said.

He added that Viacom also was planning to form a unit inside the company that would focus on a direct-to-consumer offering.  

“We are in early stages of starting up a unit that really focuses on direct-to-consumer in the form of initially free and in front of the wall, complementary programming,” Bakish said. “You will see Viacom have a much broader and more systematic approach to this, particularly with our flagship brand.”     

Bakish also addressed Viacom’s position with other virtual MVPDs. It is currently on Sling TV and DirecTV Now, but isn’t on others like Hulu Live and Sony PlayStation Vue.

“We continue to be in discussions more broadly,” Bakish said. “This is nine months in to a situation that needed some work. Distribution is important. We see a path to broadening that distribution and really are excited about the opportunity.”