Business Brief: Viacom Chief Talks Abrams, Trek, Transformers and Franchises

[WARNING: boring business article ahead]
To all of us Star Trek is a hobby (or to some a way of life), but to CBS and Paramount/Viacom Trek is a ‘brand’ and a ‘franchise.’ The good news is that Trek is again getting the notice of the higher ups. In a conference call with Wall Street where he announced a big jump in profits, Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman talked up Paramount’s 2008 line-up with a shoutouts to J.J. Abrams and Star Trek

…we feel very good about the breadth and depth of our 2008 movie slate. I’ll give you a few of the highlights. Paramount has the highly-anticipated, but adding to its mystique, still unnamed film by J.J. Abrams due out in the first quarter [Cloverfield] and we will have two summer tent poles, the latest Indiana Jones installment directed by Steven Spielberg, and Paramount’s release in association with Marvel Entertainment of Iron Man. We will also release Love Guru, a comedy starring Mike Myers, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, starring Brad Pitt. Paramount will close out the year with Star Trek, a completely reconceived version of this franchise by, again, J.J. Abrams

Abrams wasn’t the only one getting the love. The summer hit Transformers written by Star Trek scribes Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman was also highlighted by Dauman:

Paramount Motion Picture Group continued to deliver very strong results in third quarter, led by the huge success of the DreamWorks Paramount production of Transformers, which, after a decade in development, has emerged as a true global franchise with significant long-term value. Having earned more than $700 million at the global box office and helped to push Paramount into the number-one position in market share, Transformers‘ success is now extending to the home entertainment market.

As he has done so recently, Dauman spoke about his thoughts on the importance of franchises (like Trek and Transformers) to Paramount and Viacom:

Over time, we are evolving toward a diverse development model built on a solid foundation of our various brands and franchises. As we do this, we will be increasing the international distribution of our world-class filmed entertainment.

Dauman spoke often about the importance of global markets to Viacom and pointed to the success of Transformers as an example of how build global franchises. There can be no doubt that the bean counters and JJ Abrams are looking to ways of making Trek perform well both domestically and globally. In the past, Trek films have not performed well in non-English speaking countries (with the exception of Germany).

Ready for the strike
The Viacom Chief also spoke about the coming writers strike (which starts Monday). In response to a question about it, he noted that they were ready for it:

As far as the potential WGA strike is concerned, we feel we are very well positioned on an overall basis, starting with the studio. We, along with other studios, have obviously been preparing for the possibility of a strike. We have a good pipeline of movies that are already produced or in production, which will not be affected. In the long term, it depends how long the strike goes on.

Investors happy with Viacom and Paramount
This was all welcome news to investors and according to the New York Times “Analysts said the division looked well positioned to benefit from “Indiana Jones” and “Star Trek” releases in 2008. Viacom stock rose 2.9% yesterday on the news.

No Trek for CBS
Since splitting off from Viacom last year, CBS Corporation has been in charge of Trek on TV, including the library. In CBS’s analyst conference call (also held yesterday) the only mention of Trek was related to an explanation as to why syndicated revenue had dropped since last year (when Trek Remastered was sold into syndication). After decades of steady first run, syndication and DVD sales of new Trek content, CBS is headed into a Trek drought. Assuming Abrams and Paramount pull it off and make Trek big again…will CBS just sit by and watch?

Full transcript of Viacom conference call
Full transcript of CBS conference call

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Coming to CBS in 2010 Star Trek: The Next Next Generation hopefully it will happen.

Sometimes we lose sight of the fact, that in the end, it really is a business. Reading the transcript of the CBS conference call makes it all too clear. No wonder Shatner approaches things from a business perspective. He understands the suits all too well after having dealt with them for over 40 years.

William Shatner is a business graduate from McGill University in Montreal.

He went on to manage a theater.

So essentially, he was a suit before he was an actor.

Anthony thanks for the biz brief

and guys…FFS…do you have to divert every article to Shatner?

ZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzz, ZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzz

That is the kind of conference call that can really put you to sleep.

and me. i like these postings, anthony. thanks and keep up the good work.

Profits make the world go ’round. Not dilithium crystals.

Although I don’t like calling Star Trek a “franchise”, because that term applies strictly from Viacom’s perspective, I think that term applies to the spin-offs, which were clearly designed to generate revenue, not further the literary arts. The original, while a business venture, still maintained its status as literature because it did, in fact, have something to say in its own special way. So to complete the analogue, Desilu and later Paramount were more like “patrons” of Trek than they were grantors of a franchise.

#7 LOL (the bad part is, I actually read the entire call log.)

What lousy Trek villains these guys would make. They’d induce a coma in the E crew and then sell the ship off in parts.

Nice to know that no matter what the company is, they all use the same ridiculous business jargon. LOL

Nice article. Very informative. I always like to know what the suits are up to. :D

What he said can really be summed up by the following statement: “We’re giving Trek another chance because right now Abrams is like King Solomon. We’ll wait and see how much money it makes.”

I’ve seen the business end of entertainment firsthand and what it really comes down to is that they love a brand that’s bringing in money and they could care less about one that isn’t. I’ve seen some pretty shady dealings in this arena, and I’ve seen the company create entirely new fanbases and then take a big old dump on them when they don’t make as much money as they think they should be. Note that just because something is profitable, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it is successful and they will continue making it. It’s really more of a question of whether something is profitable enough to hold their interest long enough to keep green-lighting more projects.

I may sound cynical, probably because I am. I’ve seen a lot of decisions that were bad for fans made to maximize profits. I’ve seen mid-stream changes that made no sense except for the suits to say they’re “revitalizing” something. Seriously, if you really enjoy something, enjoy it for what it was, not for what it will be, because some bean counter will always f*&# it up if it promises to make the shareholders happy.

my fav about suits is from don siegel who said that when he made invasion of the body snatchers they werent communists they were the suits who run the studio who were cold,unemotional and had no idea how to make a movie!

its in the book siegel on siegel and obviously he tells the story much better than i do!

can i just say i love this site!

CBS is right. TV Trek is no longer a good sf product. It’s dated, old and not sexy anymore.

TNG made some standards for tv sf. DS9 did it again. But VOY and ENT just got boring. CBS then tried to revive the show with new FX. But what ST fans and all other tv audiences need is a brand new approach to an universal plotline: diplomacy will win. Even in space.

J.J. will give us a new powerful, gigantic, unique ST movie. But Trek is a TV thing. Not a big screen one. So, we need CBS to THINK about a new series, classic canon or JJ canon. Let Trek live in TV.

For along time I have thought, what about the Politics of the Federation? How does it run, yes I know it sounds down right boring, but how about a broad TV series? Heck you could even adapt the Romulan War (The Beggining) into a TV series, show the war, the aftermath and the true birth of the federation, and done properly it could be very very big, as big as TNG was in the 80’s and early 90’s. It will then truly link ENT to TOS, TOS to TNG and DS9. Ever since I watched Balance of Terror I have wanted to see the Earth – Romulan War, and that subject could bring alot of new viewers to Trek, in essence you could have a very gritty Star Trek, showing Humanity struggling to fight off Romulans, in hard core fighting, then see Earth’s allies coming to aide Humanity in the fight, and rise up for the common good – a “Tent Pole” of Trek is Humanity over coming it’s short comings and uniting to better the race.

But they could not BSG it, they would be restricted by ‘Cannon’ but that should not stop anyone from telling a good Trek story. CbS just has to think outside of the box.

The only way CBS will even begin to consider a new Trek TV show is if the Abrams movie is huge. If it is, then what I think we are likely to see is a return to the original show with a new TV cast (maybe one or two from the movie, like Quinto, might get cast in the TV series, but most will be recast), picking up where the original three seasons left off.

Does the “completely reconceived” statement bug anyone besides me? So long to the Trek I liked…

I wish the things I liked weren’t so damned expensive to make.

They did it with Batman, numerous times, so why not with Star Trek? I have to say I do agree though. Leave trek the way it is. It just needs a fresh mind put on the job. I think JJ has been that fresh mind. Do you guys think JJ would be up too a new trek series. Or has he already said no to that idea.

Thank you so much for this type of artlcle. Jonboc wrote “sometimes we lose sight of the fact, that in the end, it really is a business” and that is absolutely right. What we (fans since the 60s) do tend to lose sight of in our rhetoric is that Star Trek has always been about making money: For Gene and Desilu on up to Abrams and company.

Its a great story. Its a great hobby. It has been a great obssession and for some it still is. But, Star Trek has always been a neat thing that belonged to someone else. Aren’t we fortunate that we get a chance to play with it? Its like watching kids in the other yard: sometimes will get to play, sometimes we have to watch and other times we have to wait for them to come back.

The obsession that we all feel at times tends to give us a sense of entitlement – as we often see in these pages. And, many of my contemporaries have a problem with others “owning” something that they percieve as “entangible”. Oh, well.

I am very excited about the fact that the “franchise” is concidered a thing of value and that lots of very highly paid executives see it as important. As do I.

Don’t think it was ever wise for Paramount to produce both TV series and a movie series concurrently. With the high cost of movie tickets, what persons, other than fanatics, would pay for somthing they can get for free? No wonder TREK movies never highly excelled at the movies houses both domestically and internationally.

TREK needs to do what Lucas’ is doing with STAR WARS, wait until the movies have ended their run at theaters, then do a TV series. Now, that is a smart business decision.

I suffer the word “franchise” since I know very few who understand the word “canon”. Even on many don’t know exactly what the word means by spelling like a ship’s weapon. Among my closer friends we refer to the Star Trek “Mythos”. (Which may give away my history in roleplaying games, ha ha)

Anthony you keep the “boring” articles like this coming. People are not obligated to read everything! (Tho’ I do try.)

#19 Will

Fear not, you are NOT alone…

‘completely reconceived’ is the scary thing about this article.

Another one to add to the collection then…

reboot / reimagining / remake / revisualization…

“Star Trek, a completely reconceived version of this franchise.”
There you have it folks!
Its a re-boot!

#19, 25

Yeah – maybe we’d all feel better if they had preconceived more soundly before boarding this huge vessel.

26- This is marketing talk. We have statements elsehwere fromthe writers etc. that confirm that Star Trek will respect canon (with 1 n), and that the designs will be very faithful to the original.

This conference call, being public in nature, is designed to sell share certificates to investors.

So there is marketing spin here. Take it with salt.

26. “Star Trek, a completely reconceived version of this franchise.”
There you have it folks!
Its a re-boot!

I really hope you are right BECAUSE ITS GREAT NEWS
Star Trek needs a REBOOT to get new fans.

Businessmen usually really have little actual clue what their IP is all about. That’s someone else’s job. The only thing the care about is whether it’s profitable, whether they can squeeze more money out by hiring or firing cast and crew, and whether the shareholders are happy.

Saying that it has been reconceived can mean anything, from completely revamping everything al la Battlestar Galactica, or switching gears back to the characters from the original series.

If you want an indication of what’s going on behind the scenes, don’t put any stock in what someone on the business side is saying.


Yeah, a reboot will get you new fans and will cost you old fans – which means that you will end up investing a 160 Mio $ compensation check.

They have alreadyt admitted it’s not a reboot. I imagine the timeline is changed, ever so slightly, to explain away the differences between what “was” and what “is”. Which is rather brilliant I must add. Also, Nimoy is in this AS 1966 Spock, just older. No Galactica style reboot here.

Interesting article. Thanks.

“Completely reconceived” sounds good to me. :)

Let’s not confuse a franchise, a business term, with the IP — a “reimagining” of the franchise may just mean switching Trek to a movie franchise for a decade or so. The franchise so far’s been primarily a TV property with occasional movies, and it’s not making the sort of money it used to — and no wonder, with 5 Trek series, many of them virtually identical in look, theme, etc, running simultaneously in syndication. The viewing public is pretty Trek fatigued.

Now Trek as a movie franchise, releasing a summer blockbuster every few years? That sounds like something that executives can start to get excited about. And THEN we can start thinking about a new show.

Also, I want to go on record as being shocked at how much ENT improved in seasons 3 and 4, having now watched the DVDs. Wish I’d bothered to watch it while it was on the air, but, like I said, Trek fatigue. Gotta love the Mirror Universe 2-part!

Every series gets better the longer it goes. The first couple of seasons shake things out, but for the really good stuff, the 5th, 6th, and 7th seasons were the best. If UPN hadn’t shoved it down the drain, I think Enterprise would have kicked butt on the other spin-offs.

As long as we’re off on the Enterprise tangent, I’ll weigh in.

Frankly, I think it was a fine show from beginning to end, with the exception of the final episode, which was unbelievably bad. I actually enjoy season one and two quite a bit, and has been pointed out, it only got better in seasons three and four.

I’ve come to this conclusion from watching the HD syndication of the show on HDNet, not because I was watching it at the time. The reason I wasn’t watching it at the time was for the following reasons: 1. Trek burnout. 2. I didn’t think that the concept of a prequel series was particularly appealing, and 3. Voyager was so awfully bad that I gave up on Trek around season 3 and didn’t come back until about a year ago. Part of the reason I didn’t come back sooner was because my writing career was taking off at the time and I was having a hard time squeezing in the TV I did want to see. I’ve since rearranged my schedule and moved, so I have more time to watch the stuff I want to see.

Hmm Transformers made over $700 Mil World Wide, Trek XI could be a potential cash cow!

#37:”As long as we’re off on the Enterprise tangent, I’ll weigh in.

Frankly, I think it was a fine show from beginning to end, with the exception of the final episode, which was unbelievably bad. I actually enjoy season one and two quite a bit, and has been pointed out, it only got better in seasons three and four.”

I like “Enterprise” quite a lot.

Oo, and some decent videogames would be nice too. The dross that’s been churned out for us since Interplay went down has just been horrifying.

Let’s hope that gets worked into the reimagined franchise.

#37 Enterprise tangent.. yes, I liked the show as well except for that Xindi arc. And the Temporal Cold War. Then again, I’m fond of anything Trek as long as the merchandising side doesn’t come out with silliness like Mr. Potato Head versions of the characters..

Back to the original topic at hand: thanks, Anthony, for the “boring” article. Keep them coming. Great to see this little insight on the other side (backbone?) of the Trek world. As has been pointed out, it is, after all, business.

As long as the suits don’t step too much on the fans and on their staff’s creativity, they’re alright. In other words they’re handling the fan productions quite well by leaving them alone. And, it seems like the people behind the new movie has a lot of creative freedom. Besides: we wouldn’t have ST New Voyages if the suits were overly greedy controlling jerks. ;-)

PS – on the “reconcieved” comment

Do we passionate Star Trek fans have to be so closed-minded when we hear any language remotely close to the word, “reboot”? I for one take it as an indication of the amount of freedom they’re giving the writers, etc. Anthony is right in reminding us that they are far too up the food chain.

Yes, the phrase concerned me as well. But not for long: after giving it a quick second thought it right away occurred to me that they understand enough and they’re saying what they need to say. The suits seem to understand that people are in place to bring life back into one of their brands.