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ViacomCBS’ CFO on streaming and strategy

September 29, 2021, 10:29 AM UTC

Good morning,

The key to solving the puzzle of a long-term vision that includes assets, people, products, services, and the balance sheet is most visible in the world of finance, ViacomCBS EVP and CFO Naveen Chopra told me. And taking on that challenge is one of the reasons why Chopra enjoys his job so much, he says.

Chopra joined the mass media and entertainment giant in August 2020, as the pandemic raged and less than a year into the company’s completed merger, which took place in December 2019. “What I found was an organization that was very passionate about making the transition to streaming,” he explains. “It really just needed some clarity and structure around how exactly are we going to do that? How much are we going to invest?” And the leadership and communication element is making sure everyone internally has clarity on the strategy, Chopra says. 

CFO Daily-ViacomCBS Naveen Chopra
ViacomCBS CFO Naveen Chopra.
Courtesy of ViacomCBS

ViacomCBS, headquartered in New York City and led by president and CEO Bob Bakish, reported for Q2 of 2021 a revenue increase of about 8% to $6.56 billion from $6.08 billion the same time last year. The company earned $983 million in streaming revenues, an increase of 92% year-over-year. Fueled by Paramount+, the global streaming service, 6.5 million new streaming subscribers were added in Q2, reaching a total of more than 42 million, according to the company.

“We had to sort of reinvent how we produce content and doing that in a COVID-safe way requires a lot of innovation,” Chopra says.

This included safely staffing and determining the location of a production at a reasonable cost, he says. But it also provided the company the opportunity try different elements of its strategy, he says. An example? “Given that most theaters have been closed or have heavily reduced traffic for most of the pandemic, we’ve tested a variety of different ways to release a new movie,” Chopra says. Take for instance, Paw Patrol: The Movie, which was released simultaneously in theaters and on Paramount+ in August, he says. “It ended up doing even better than we expected at the box office,” Chopra says. The additional promotion and awareness on the streaming platform helped the film’s theatrical release and vice versa, he says. 

Chopra also oversees the M&A strategy, which was established pre-pandemic, and has three elements, he says. The first step was the Viacom and CBS merger. Step two: “divest from what we describe as non-core assets, which don’t really further our core mission of building great content, driving distribution through networks, and then transitioning the business to streaming,” Chopra says. The sale of CNET, Simon & Schuster, and the “Black Rock” building in New York City are some examples, he explains. “The third piece of the plan is continued acquisitions,” he says. “Our M&A focuses really on various tuck-ins that we think can augment our growth strategy.”

Before joining ViacomCBS, Chopra worked at Amazon as CFO of its devices and services business. He was previously CFO at Pandora, and for a period, interim CEO of the company. Prior to that, he was a CFO at TiVo and served as interim CEO there as well. At ViacomCBS, Chopra said he’s prioritizing digital transformation and his background gives him “an appreciation for some of the technical complexities involved.” Chopra is also involved in the work to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion across the entire organization. “It’s something that I’m personally passionate about,” he says. 

But a career as a finance chief was kind of unexpected. “If you would’ve asked me 20 years ago whether I would likely be a CFO, I probably would have said no,” Chopra says. However, it’s “the perfect place” for what he likes the most—”having a broad purview of many different parts of the business,” Chopra told me.


See you tomorrow.

Sheryl Estrada
sheryl.estrada@fortune.com

Big deal

As young investors become more engaged with the market, they're seeking guidance, according to E-Trade's quarterly study StreetWise, released on September 28. About 56% of investors under the age of 34 surveyed said the best ways to learn about investing is from a financial advisor or investment professional, and 55% said online educational content and tools. In addition, 57% said during the past three months they've become more likely to use software like a dedicated trading platform. But 74% of Gen Z and Millennial investors noted the inability to understand financial language hinders them from investing on their own. This is an increase of 8 percentage points from last year's survey, the study found. The study is based on an online survey of 898 U.S. participants.

Courtesy of E-Trade

Going deeper

Resetting Normal: Defining the New Era of Work, released on September 28, gauges the sentiment of 14,800 workers in 25 countries on remote work, mental health in the workplace, and their future career plans. The study, conducted by consulting company LHH, a division of the global HR firm The Adecco Group, found 53% of respondents want a hybrid working model. But many employees are also working longer hours. For example, in the U.S., 66% of respondents reported working more than 40 hours a week over the past year. And 73% of workers globally want to be measured by outcomes rather than hours. In the U.S., 42% of managers said it has not been easy to help others with burnout, or mental wellbeing (45%). The study also found that almost two in five employees surveyed are already changing or considering new careers.

Leaderboard

Razzak Jallow was named the first CFO at FloQast, an accounting software startup. Less than three months ago, FloQast announced its $1.2 billion valuation. In Jallow’s role, he will help guide the company towards an IPO. Prior to joining the team, Jallow served as the VP of finance at Looker, a data analytics company.

Ronnie Y. Ng was named CFO at National CineMedia (NCM), a cinema advertising network. Ng joins NCM from Allen Media Group, LLC, a diversified media and entertainment company, where he was CFO and head of corporate development. Prior to AMG, Ng served as a VP in the fixed income group for TCW Group, Inc. He was previously was an investment banker for approximately 10 years, including the position of executive director of UBS Investment Bank’s Global Media Group.

Steven Yuan Ning Sim was named CFO at AGM Group Holdings Inc., an integrated technology company focusing on chip solutions. Zhihe Yang resigned as CFO, effective September 23. Sim has over 15 years of audit and financial management experience. Prior to joining the company, he served as CFO at Pintec Technology Holdings Limited, an independent financial solutions provider in China. Previously, Sim served as vice president of finance at Sohu.com Inc. and CFO at Leyou Inc.

Overheard

"While stock markets are a great tool to access early in life to build wealth, other markets—like futures or options markets–will destroy the amateur investors’ savings the more they engage with them over the long run."

—Derek Horstmeyer, a finance professor at George Mason University’s School of Business, wrote in a Fortune opinion piece on how young investors can avoid common pitfalls when trading on Robinhood.

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