Viacom CEO looks to improve culture, affiliate relations, amid CBS talk

(Reuters) - The top priorities of Viacom Inc's VIAB.O acting president and chief executive are improving key relations with affiliates as well as the struggling media company's internal culture, Bob Bakish told Reuters at the end of his first week on the job.

A woman exits the Viacom Inc. headquarters in New York April 30, 2013. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo

Bakish, Viacom's third CEO in less than three months, is seen by many investors as a caretaker until the company is merged into CBS Corp CBS.N, a deal controlling shareholders Sumner Redstone and his daughter Shari are pushing.

But the long-time head of international at Viacom appears intent on having an impact while in charge of the company.

In his first week on the job, he met with talent, as well as distribution partners and executives and employees on both U.S. coasts, including at Paramount Studios, he said in an interview last week from his yet-to-be decorated office in New York.

“The company has been through a lot and part of my job is to revitalize the culture,” Bakish said. “It’s about starting to create a positive buzz and having people believe we can do great things.”

Bakish’s focus extends beyond within Viacom. He recently met with the CEO of a major affiliate about ways the two could partner, he said. “One thing I am committed to is working to rebuild some of our affiliate distributor relationships in the U.S,”

The Redstones, who own the majority of voting shares of CBS and Viacom through their privately held National Amusements, want to recombine the two companies 10 years after they split. Both firms have set up a special committee of directors to explore a potential merger and have hired bankers as advisers.

Bakish would not comment on whether he thinks the decision to pursue a merger with CBS could change based on his work. He also declined to provide details of his strategy to turn around Viacom, which has been struggling amid declining advertising revenue and ratings.

Before he started his new role, Bakish set up a 15 person task force to identify short-term goals that can be fixed.

Now there are nine separate committees aimed at devising strategies to meet those goals, he said.

“If you look at how the company was being run over the past few years, it was very siloed and I believe that resulted in a missed opportunity,” he said.

Reporting By Jessica Toonkel; editing by Anna Driver and Alan Crosby