May 28, 2020

“We're working hard to deliver the benefits of the merger across the international markets.”

Our In the Office With ... series, gives ViacomCBS executives the opportunity to reveal a little bit about who they are, how they lead, and what drives them in the day-to-day.

For David Lynn, President and CEO of ViacomCBS Networks International, converting to a remote working lifestyle was familiar. As head of ViacomCBS’ international teams, which has employees in 30 countries, he’s accustomed to working across time zones via video chat and phone calls.

Before the coronavirus crisis began to spread globally, Lynn—who oversees all ViacomCBS’ international business and brands, including MTV, Comedy Central, and Nickelodeon as well as Telefe, Channel 5, Network 10, Paramount+—was busy integrating CBS into Viacom’s legacy international footprint and continuing to develop the company’s digital presence. With the evolving nature of COVID-19, ensuring that ViacomCBS’ offices around the world adjusted to a new way of working also became a priority. “The short-term objective as a management team is to make sure that all our employees are safe and well. So that's number one. And also, to protect our business, get through this crisis and mitigate the impact of the virus on our financial performance,” he said.

“At the same time, we're working hard to deliver the benefits of the merger across the international markets,” Lynn added. “I'm really excited about the opportunities that are now available to us.”

Lynn spoke to the ViacomCBS Newsroom about the company’s international streaming approach, its digital transformation, and the benefits of the Viacom and CBS merger, which closed at the end of 2019. He also shared his best tips on how to adapt to remote work.

What goals do you have for ViacomCBS Networks International over the next year?

David Lynn: First, of course, is the health and safety of our employees. Beyond that we are focused on scaling the benefits of the merger internationally—particularly the incredible pipelines that we have from the combined company of new and library content. We are in the midst of transforming our business and expanding our streaming business—both SVOD and AVOD are key to that. We are also focused on evolving our workplace culture, strengthening our digital skills across the organization, and building our Diversity & Inclusion and culture strategies for each of our different regions.

How do you manage territories around the world that are so different from one another? And, as part of that, how do you measure the success in each since they're all in very different levels of development?

DL: If I look at the landscape that we are operating in, it's true that all our markets are at different stages of development, but I would say that all of them are being disrupted. We're seeing a growing popularity of video streaming across the world. Our key to success is understanding where each market sits on that transition curve between TV and streaming and then adapt our strategy accordingly.

We've been very successful over the last few years at growing and delivering at an exceptional rate. That's been because we've been driving the business to be more digitally focused over this time. And on top of that, we have strong local teams. They have the market knowledge and the local relationships to deliver on our objectives.

We also have a healthy culture of what we call “competitive collaboration” between our local teams. People are always trying to come up with new ideas and new innovations. And one of our great advantages is we can take something that works, that has been piloted successfully in one market, and then very quickly roll it out across other markets internationally.

"We are not starting from scratch... We have millions of subscribers across ViacomCBS streaming services globally and we have an aggressive plan to continue to grow."

Speaking of streaming—can you describe your strategy for expanding streaming offerings across international markets?

DL: I appointed Pierluigi Gazzolo to head our streaming and studio business about six months ago. I also brought in Kelly Day as our new Chief Operating Officer with a view to drive our digital transformation. We're currently developing our go-to-market strategies, both in the free and pay space. We're working to align our SVOD strategy with the U.S. via a service that aggregates content from all of ViacomCBS' brands—which is an incredibly powerful proposition.

We are not starting from scratch. We launched Paramount+—which is an aggregated on-demand service—in Nordics two years ago and have since rolled it out to 10 different territories internationally. It’s a great example of taking an idea from one place and scaling it. We're now looking at how we build on this success using the combined pipeline of Viacom and CBS and build out more territories internationally.  Launching Paramount+ a couple of years ago gave us a head start, as did CBS being one of the first broadcasters to have a streaming service with CBS All Access.

We have millions of subscribers across ViacomCBS streaming services globally and we have an aggressive plan to continue to grow.

We also launched Noggin on Apple TV internationally in March and we're already in 60 territories with that service. Due to the pandemic, we are offering extended free trial periods, 30-day or 60-days of our streaming services, including Paramount+ and Noggin, and that obviously is to meet the huge demand there is from consumers at home.

In addition to expanding the streaming business internationally, what are other areas of focus?

DL: The studio business is a key growth opportunity across the international business. We've made incredible progress over the last few years. This is a relatively new business for us; We went from virtually no revenue from the source in 2016 to over $30 million in 2019. The Latin American studios have been the key driver of this growth. We've also rolled out studios elsewhere, and we now have studios in the UK, Europe, and Asia.

As an example, one of my favorites is a format that we developed in Argentina called 100 Days To Fall in Love. We sold the Spanish language rights to Telemundo, and Showtime is developing an English language version, which is a great example of cross-company collaboration.

We've sold our first original animation to Netflix globally, called Sharkdog. And our UK studio sold its first documentary series, called Story of Songs, to Reelz in the U.S. There's a lot of activity happening in that space, and our studio business is accelerating rapidly as it matures.

"I'm fundamentally very optimistic about this business. Once we get through the pandemic we'll return to growth."

With the studio business, how are you navigating production shutdowns?

DL: It'll have an impact on the business this year. But I'm fundamentally very optimistic about this business. Once we get through the pandemic we’ll return to growth.

We're using this time to move the business forward. Our creators and developers are continuing to develop new ideas and they're in active conversations with potential partners. Everyone’s been really creative and adaptive. For example, there’s a new project called Balcony Stories, a short-form series using user-generated content with 27 local versions that’ll air in 100 countries. We also recently launched a storyteller's initiative during the quarantine period to work with local writers on new ideas. And, we've closed some deals as well on the short-form side with Facebook and YouTube. So we're still keeping the machine moving.

Given your role, we’d love to learn more about how you build and manage your team. What do you look for in potential hires? 

DL: The thing I look for most is passion and energy. I want people who believe in our vision and have the drive to make that happen.

My most recent hire was Kelly Day, previously the head of Viacom Digital Studios. I've been really impressed with how she effectively launched and built that business over the last three years and grew it incredibly well. Kelly really embodies that passion and energy. She came on board in March and is focused on driving the digital transformation of the business.

You’ve obviously had a lot of experience managing teams in distant locations. What advice do you have for people who are new to navigating working remotely?

DL: The principles of good management are the same, whether you're in the office or working remotely. It's about setting and communicating your goals and expectations, building strong teams, and supporting an effective culture that motivates people. It's quite easy to miss issues, whether they be people issues or business issues when you're not there on the ground, so you've got to really keep your ears open.

With offices in some 30 countries around the world, we're always focused on being attuned to cultural differences. Just one example of that is time zones. It's a simple thing, but just respecting the boundaries of when people are working and when they're not working. All of us, at the moment, are trying to find the balance between our working lives and our private lives since we're all based from home. I think that there are permanent learnings from this. I think we’ll travel less and we'll adapt to a more flexible working environment as a result of this.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Small Talk

Off-hours pursuit: Cycling is my big thing. I usually cycle to and from work every day.

At the moment, it's been safer because the streets of London are pretty empty. We’ve been allowed an hour of exercise in the UK so I’ve gone cycling with my wife and three kids over the last couple of weekends. We’ve been going around Piccadilly Circus, Buckingham Palace, and there's nobody there. I've been telling the kids, "This is the only time in your lives you're going to see London like this."

Where you go to escape: I'm lucky enough to own a little house in a village in Ireland called Glandore. I’m Irish and I love getting back there. This village, it's tiny and very Irish in that it has only one shop and three pubs.

Second career possibility: I'd love to do something in property. Over the years, my wife and I have bought a couple of old houses, renovated them and then either lived in them or sold them. It's something I’m passionate about and it's something that my wife is really skilled in as well. It's something that we did together and something I would love to do again in the future.

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