On December 9, five days after the merger of CBS, parent company of Simon & Schuster, with Viacom was completed, Bob Bakish, CEO of the newly formed ViacomCBS spoke at investor conference sponsored by UBS and gave a quick overview of the media giant’s early priorities. Top of the list is improving shareholder value, which may be accomplished by a stock buy-back program. Some of the funds to pay for a buy-back could come from the sale of Black Rock, the longtime headquarters of CBS in Manhattan, which Bakish said ViacomCBS is considering as part of a review of its real estate holdings.
With the merger only recently completed, Bakish said ViacomCBS is in the early stages of reviewing its balance sheet and doesn’t anticipate buying another company in the near term. Bakish did say ViacomCBS will increase its presence in the streaming business. It has sales of about $28 billion and includes a movie studio, television network, streaming services, and cable networks, as well as S&S.
In a conference call in early November discussing S&S’s third quarter results, S&S CEO Carolyn Reidy told PW she didn’t believe the merger had been a distraction to S&S employees. Despite the fact that ViacomCBS executives hope to save $500 million in 2020 through the merger, Reidy pointed out that Viacom has no book publishing group, which she believes means that if there are to be any personnel cuts to come, they will likely be minimal and will almost certainly not impact S&S’s editorial, marketing, or sales divisions.
In a letter to S&S employees when the merger was first announced, Reidy said she views the combination with Viacom as providing more chances for the publisher’s authors’ works to be adapted by any of a number of ViacomCBS properties. “Our authors will have more creative opportunities” as a result of the merger, she noted. Reidy added that S&S has already worked with Viacom on a number of projects.
Among the biggest successes was To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, a Netflix movie based on the novel by S&S author Jenny Han, which was produced by Viacom’s Awesomeness Films. The sequel, To All the Boys: P.S. I Love You, based on Han’s second book in the series, will be released in February on Netflix. Viacom’s TV Land has been airing Younger for a number of years, a show about publishing based on a book by Pamela Redmond.
Other S&S books that are in development with Viacom brands include All the Single Ladies by Rebecca Traister, Dry by Neal Shusterman, Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson, and The Library Book by Susan Orlean.
S&S has long been involved with different aspects of CBS—for example, S&S has created books from CBS shows, and CBS divisions have acquired rights to S&S books. A recent hit involved the young adult novel Five Feet Apart, which started life as a screenplay in development by CBS Films and was adapted by S&S. The book was published in November 2018, before the film was released in March, and has about 600,000 copies in print.
Another book that came from a CBS show was Whose Boat Is This Boat by the staff of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, a humorous picture book based on quotes from President Trump about the aftermath of Hurricane Florence; sales of the book have raised more than $2 million for hurricane relief charities. S&S also had success with Snow Falling, a romance “written” by Jane Villaneuva—the main character on the CW hit Jane the Virgin.
A recent S&S bestseller, Three Women by Lisa Taddeo, has been acquired by CBS’s Showtime division with what S&S calls a “sizable series commitment.” Showtime also recently aired Murder in the Bayou by Ethan Brown, which S&S published in September 2017.
Reidy said that though S&S doesn’t have any first-look agreements with other CBS units, people hear about different projects just by working in the same company. She added that she hopes being part of ViacomCBS will give S&S even more access to “content and talent.”