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David Ellison and Jeff Shell Say Paramount Can Be “Winner” in Streaming, Plan $2B in Cost Savings



David Ellison and Jeff Shell Say Paramount Can Be “Winner” in Streaming, Plan B in Cost Savings

The incoming owners of Paramount Global laid out their vision for the company — and why the deal is a good one for investors — in a call with Wall Street analysts early Monday morning.

Skydance CEO David Ellison, former NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell (who would be Paramount’s president when the deal closes) and Paramount’s three co-CEOs hosted the call, answering questions from the investor community, while a presentation included a refreshed Paramount logo…one that seemed to merge Skydance’s logo with the legacy studio’s.

“The key thesis behind this transaction is our desire to inject Skydance as a pure play content company, to double down on Paramount’s prowess as one of the world-class storytelling enterprises, and also ensure the company is positioned to be able to expand into a tech hybrid, to be able to transition to meet the demands and needs of the evolving marketplace,” Ellison told analysts to open the call.

Indeed, Skydance’s tech prowess was a recurring theme on the call, from the company’s partnership with Oracle (founded by Ellison’s father Larry Ellison, who is among the backers of the deal), to Ellison touting his mentorship from Apple’s Steve Jobs.

And of course tech is a key piece of the streaming puzzle, which both Ellison and Shell elaborated on. Shell laid out a three-prong plan in streaming, including a review of its content strategy, and figuring out what content belongs where.

“I’m a big political believer in windowing strategy, and I think there’s maybe a more efficient way to maximize the value of our content while continue to be in the DTC business,” Shell said.

And Shell sounded open to partnerships with other companies.

“Our goal, David and my goal and the rest of the team, is to win. We want to make this company the leader in entertainment, and that goes for DTC too,” Shell said. “So we’re going to be evaluating all options to be a winner in DTC, and to be a winner in DTC really means being in the ultimate bundle that’s coming. We’ve got a bunch of inbound from a number of people about partnerships that could involve a partnership with another player or players, and so we will evaluate all that.”

And finally, the executives reiterated that they believe their tech background is key.

“Our intention is to rebuild the Paramount+ platform. And believe that with the technological prowess and relationships that we have, we can expand our DTC business,” Ellison said, noting things like revamping its recommendation engine, improving advertising tech and unifying cloud providers.

“You’ve watched some incredibly powerful technology companies move into the media space and do so very successfully,” Ellison added. “We believe it is essential that we obviously move toward that direction as a tech company, which also goes back to what my core competency obviously is, and goes back to the key thesis with Skydance, which is that by bringing together technology and media, that’s what’s essential to be able to kind of chart a course forward in this environment.”

As for Paramount’s linear business, Shell said the plan is to manage their decline while also “restructuring and elevating” some of the cable brands, and that they have already identified $2 billion in cost efficiencies.

“We’ve got to run these businesses in a different way as they as they decline,” Shell said. “So we’ve spent a lot of the last few months really building a bottom-up plan, and our goal is to manage the businesses, particularly the linear businesses, for cash flow generation.”

He added that whatever their streaming strategy ends up being, CBS will be at the heart of it.

But Shell also said that Skydance could “be supportive of” Paramount shedding some of its assets.

“There are assets here which we think are not strategic to where we’re going, that if we were to get a buyer to pay a price that we thought was compelling, we would absolutely do that,” Shell said. “And we know current management is also talking about a couple of transactions that, if they get the right price, we’ll be supportive of.”

BET Networks, Paramount’s non-CBS local TV stations and VidCon are among the assets reportedly up for grabs.

On Sunday night Skydance and Paramount announced that they had finally reached a deal, one that would see Ellison’s company acquire Shari Redstone’s National Amusements, in turn giving it control of Paramount. Once the deal closes (they expect approvals to take nearly a year), Paramount would acquire Skydance, with Ellison becoming CEO of the combined company, and Shell becoming its president.

The deal includes a 45-day “go shop” policy, where Paramount can see if any other suitors emerge. If one does, and Skydance does not match, Paramount would pay Skydance a $400 million breakup fee.

In the meantime, Paramount’s co-CEOs George Cheeks, Brian Robbins and Chris McCarthy will continue to run the company.

“We have the three co CEOs on the phone here, they are all well known to all of us,” Shell said. “We’ve been friends for a long time, Dave and I with all three of them. And you buy these companies not just for the IP, but you buy it for the people and so beyond those three, we know we’re getting a lot of great, talented people at Paramount and we’re confident that this team is going to run this effectively during the next period of time as we wait to close this business.”

Shell, on Monday’s call, heaped praise on his future boss, arguing that he was the perfect person to run a media company during this tumultuous period.

“It’s been a long time since a creative executive ran one of the big Hollywood companies,” Shell said. “And I think it’s really important when creative is at the core, working with artists is the core of our business, to have somebody like David running the business.”

Shell added: “Actually, if you went into a lab and designed the perfect executive for the next-generation Hollywood company, you would literally spit out David Ellison, because he not only can go to a table read, but he can go to the next room and code too.”

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