Shari Redstone once again eyeing a merger of CBS and Viacom

Los Angeles Times 10 months ago

Shari Redstone wants to recombine CBS Corp. and Viacom Inc. to better fortify the two medium-sized media companies at a time when other entertainment companies are scrambling to bulk up.

There are no merger talks underway, three people familiar with the matter who were not authorized to publicly discuss the situation said Friday. However, Redstone, whose family controls the voting shares of CBS and Viacom, ​​​​​​ increasingly sees a merger as a compelling option for the two companies that have operated separately for 12 years, according to these people.

Redstone, who serves as vice chair of both companies, has expressed her feelings to the leadership and boards of the two entities, according to the sources.

“Shari is determined to get them back together,” said one of the sources. “Everything else she could think of went nowhere.”

Redstone was not immediately available for comment.

Viacom owns MTV, Comedy Central, BET Nickelodeon and the Paramount Pictures film studio in Hollywood. CBS owns the CBS broadcast network, TV stations, premium channel Showtime and a boutique film studio.

Her rekindled interest in merging the companies, which was reported Friday by the Hollywood trade publication the Wrap, comes as little surprise. Redstone previously said she didn’t support the decision by her father, the ailing mogul Sumner Redstone, to divide the family empire in 2006.

“I was never a great proponent of the split of the two companies,” she said at a media conference in November 2016.

Earlier that fall, Redstone announced that she wanted the two companies to explore a merger and board-level exploration committees were formed. The stronger CBS began evaluating whether to acquire Viacom, but the talks fell apart in December 2016 over a valuation of Viacom, which has seen its stock fall more than 50% since early 2015.

Redstone also decided that she wanted to give Viacom Chief Executive Bob Bakish — who was appointed at the end of 2016 — a chance to turn around the company.

But much has changed in the last year. Key Viacom cable channels continue to struggle with ratings declines and accelerated cord cutting. Viacom generates its profit from cable TV channels, so the shrinking universe of pay-TV homes makes it more difficult to grow its business.

Compounding matters, Paramount is coming off another rough year, with recent flops such as “Suburbicon,” “Mother” and “Downsizing.” The studio ranked seventh last year among all distributors in market share in the United States and Canada, according to Box Office Mojo.

Paramount’s new chairman and CEO, Jim Gianopulos, who joined last year, has been shaking up the studio’s executive ranks in an effort to engineer a turnaround.

Meanwhile, CBS’ stock stagnated in 2017 as investors grew less bullish on media.

Other medium-sized companies have become merger bait as traditional media companies see increased scale — and distribution — as a way to compete with the likes of Google, Facebook, and Netflix.

Telecommunications giant AT&T is trying to buy Time Warner Inc., which owns HBO, CNN, TBS and the Warner Bros. movie and television studio. Last summer, two other cable programmers — Scripps Networks Interactive and Discovery Communications — agreed to their own merger.

Then last month, Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox stunned the industry when it agreed to sell much of the company, including the 20th Century Fox movie and television studio, to the Walt Disney Co. Analysts and investors predicted the blockbuster deal would trigger other consolidations, including a recombination of Viacom and CBS.

People close to the companies quickly cautioned that there was no timetable for a deal, or even if one would happen.

“There have been talks about this — and many other things — at the board level,” according to one person close to CBS.

Others have speculated on the prospect of a roll-up of CBS, Viacom and Lionsgate. Lionsgate, in recent years, has been more successful than Viacom’s movie division.

Viacom shares closed Friday at $33.76, up $2.95, or nearly 10% on Friday.

CBS stock closed up nearly 2%, or $1.05 to $58.83 a share.

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