Ryan Doody, Georgina Macdonald
Viacom, Inc. (VIAB) is an American media conglomerate with particular interests in cinema with Paramount Pictures, America’s oldest film studio; and cable television as the sixth largest cable ownership company globally, in order of revenue. Viacom houses media networks that reach approximately 700 million global subscribers with leading channels including MTV, VH1, BET, COMEDY CENTRAL and Nickelodeon.
National Amusements, Inc. have a controlling interest of the media company. National Amusements is Viacom founder and billionaire Sumner Redstone’s holding company. This company holds a majority stake in both Viacom and its sister company, CBS Corp. Viacom was originally founded by media magna Sumner M. Redstone in 1971 and then reestablished in 2005 after splitting its original format into two publicly traded companies; Viacom and CBS Corporation. Sumner Redstone then became CEO of the newly defined Viacom, Inc. until February 2016. At the age of 92, Redstone resigned from his chairmanships at both CBS and Viacom after a court-ordered psychiatric examination.
The Redstone’s Legal Battles
This court-ordered examination by a geriatric psychiatrist is just one noteworthy outcome that has come out of a continuous stream of legal battles within and around the famously fractious Redstone family. The specific inquiry into the 92 year old’s health came after the newly-dismissed Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman sued Redstone, claiming that his dismissal was proof that Sumner was under the control of his daughter, Shari Redstone. At the time there were many rumors that Sumner Redstone’s failing health had allowed his daughter to run his company for him. These rumors were further supported by his supposed successor being someone close to Shari. Dauman and the five other board members dismissed by Redstone this year have sued to prevent their ouster. Their strategy was to prove that Shari took advantage of her father’s mental incapacity in order to seize control of the billion dollar companies. Their ‘legal drama’ and public familial feuding has been highly publicized over the last few years presenting the company as volatile, unstable and, thus, detrimentally impacted their professional image.
The Country’s Oldest Movie Studio
Paramount Pictures Corporation has experienced its worst fiscal year in Brad Grey’s twelve years as Chairman and CEO of the corporation. During his comments about their dismal year, Grey painted a ‘rosier picture’ for the future of Paramount Pictures. He hinted that with the dismissal of Dauman, the era of cost-cutting and streamlined content was over. Moreover, he insinuated that this would further allow a move ahead with more inventive content by acquiring more sub companies to provide blockbuster results; as in the spirit of Disney’s buying of companies such as Marvel, Pixar and Lucasfilm which has set up its slates for the next decade
The development of content is certainly the main issue with Paramount Pictures. It is reported that since the departures of Marvel, DreamWorks Animation and DreamWorks SKG, the corporation has been floundering for lucrative content for development. Grey also commented on repairing Paramount’s image within the film industry. They are seen as ‘penny-pincher’ with a poor business affairs process; a destabilized management team within their production division; and an inability to successfully launch branded sequels (as seen this year with Star Trek Beyond and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles).
“Recently, we’ve missed more than we should have.’ Grey said to Deadline magazine; but he went on to say that Paramount has ‘a very strong, diverse slate ahead.’ A true statement, according to critics; their roster includes a huge range of films from Oscar contenders like Scorsese’s Silence to the next chapter of the billion dollar franchise; Transformers: The Last Knight (Click here for news and spoilers).
Over the past year, Viacom has flirted with the idea of re-merging with CBS, and as of November 2016 it seems inevitable. Shari Redstone has said in an interview that she “think[s] it makes sense at this point in time to explore whether it’s in the interest of both companies to merge again” (13). Viacom’s poor cable performance has put it at a weak position when it will eventually negotiate the merger with CBS. While it is uncertain who will lead the company, the most likely contender is Les Moonves, CBS’s current CEO (4).
Viacom’s cable holdings have not seen nearly as much success in the past year as they have had in the past. As of November 20, 2016, there are no Viacom channels in the top 5 cable networks during Primetime. In fact, in the list of the 15 top channels on cable based on total day viewership, Viacom channels – Nickelodeon and Nick at Night – only appear twice (10).
The two most notable absentees from this list are MTV and Comedy Central – two of Viacom’s major channels. Comedy Central has seen a drop in viewership mainly due to the end of two of its most popular shows – The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report. After Jon Stewart’s departure, Comedy Central’s viewership declined a painful 37% (11); the channel has yet to see a comparable replacement.
The new era of Comedy Central programming has yet to see the same success as its predecessors. The Daily Show with Trevor Noah’s average rating of 0.32 is about half that of Stewart’s. The Daily Show’s lack of success represents the channels struggle as a whole. While Trevor Noah may be likeable, In the words of Hayley C. Cuccinello of Forbes Magazine: “His dimples and adorable South African accent just aren’t cutting it” (11)
MTV has described the channel’s cable ratings plunge as a “transitional era” where it’s largely youthful demographic access the channel’s content primarily OTT through the MTV app. Its TV ratings have fell 29% between 2014 and 2015, yet MTV can still boast over 49 million Facebook likes, which is significantly higher than channels like Fox News that have higher TV ratings. While it may have digital success, MTV as a cable network will have to seriously innovate its content if it wants to stay relevant (12).
Argentina’s Largest TV Station
Management within Viacom has been a revolving door in recent months. Following the controversial departures of Dauman in August and Tom Dooley in September of this year, Robert Bakish became the company’s third CEO in three months. Bakish is a Viacom veteran; he became the President and CEO of Viacom International Media Networks in 2007 after worked for the company since 1997. (16)
Bakish’s move has already influenced many of Viacom’s strategies moving forward. He claims his desire is to strengthen the company both domestically and internationally; expected due to his background in global media networks. Bakish’s promotion moves complementarily with Viacom’s acquisition of one of Argentina’s main free-to-air channels, Telefe. The massive deal was announced in November this year, with Viacom pledging $345 million for the channel. (15) This certainly was a surprise purchase due to it’s well-known financial instability. This acquisition strengthens Viacom’s already prominent standing in South America; Telefe reaches 95% of all households in the country and reportedly has attracted 33% share of viewership year-to-date in 2016. However, the fiscal impact of a $345 million buy will be interesting to watch in a company with a reported $12 billion debt. (18)
- James, Meg. November 8, 2016. LA Times. Sony Vue Dumps Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, MTV and Other Viacom Channels. Retrieved November 28, 2016. http://www.latimes.com/business/hollywood/la-fi-ct-sony-vue-viacom-20161108-story.html
- James, Meg. July 8, 2016. LA Times. Why Viacom Chief Philippe Dauman is fighting his longtime boss, Sumner Redstone. Retrieved November 26th, 2016. http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/envelope/cotown/la-et-ct-why-philippe-dauman-fights-sumner-redstone-20160706-snap-story.html
- Cohan, William D. June 16, 2016. Vanity Fair. “It’s a Coup D’état Without a Doubt”: Is Shari Redstone Making Power Moves at Viacom? Retrieved November 26th, 2016. http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2016/06/shari-redstone-power-moves-viacom
- Fox, Emily Jane. November 2, 2016. Vanity Fair. Finally, There is a Winner in the Redstone Family Drama. Retrieved November 3rd, 2016. http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2016/11/bob-bakish-viacom-compensation
- Board of Directors. Retrieved November 24, 2016. http://www.viacom.com/about/pages/boardofdirectors.aspx#
- Paramount Pictures. Retrieved November 1, 2016. http://www.paramount.com
- Executives: Brad Grey. Retrieved November 1, 2016. http://www.paramount.com/inside-studio/studio/executives/meet-executives/brad-grey
- Fleming Jr, Mike and Cieply, Michael. November 3, 2016. Deadline. Brad Grey Fights For Paramount’s Future Part Two. Retrieved November 4, 2016. http://deadline.com/2016/11/brad-grey-paramount-pictures-future-sumner-redstone-shari-redstone-1201847371/
- Fleming Jr, Mike and Finke, Niki. October 8, 2010. Deadline. Paramount to End Relationship with Marvel in 2012. Retrieved November 4, 2016. http://deadline.com/2010/10/disney-paramount-marvel-restructure-marketing-distruibution-deal-76534/
- Media By The Numbers: This Week’s Cable Ratings. November 23, 2016. Retrieved 28, 2016. http://www.medialifemagazine.com/this-weeks-cable-ratings/
- Cuccinello, Hayley C. April 28, 2016. Forbes. Trevor Noah’s ‘Daily Show’ Reaches 100th Episode, But Noah Is Still Struggling. Retrieved November 28, 2016. http://www.forbes.com/sites/hayleycuccinello/2016/04/28/trevor-noahs-daily-show-reaches-100th-episode-but-noah-is-still-struggling/#67c25575820e
- Zara, Christopher. April 15, 2015. International Business Times. MTV Ratings Decline Raises Relevance Questions As Young People Cut Cable Cord For Devices. Retrieved November 28, 2016. http://www.ibtimes.com/mtv-ratings-decline-raises-relevance-questions-young-people-cut-cable-cord-devices-1881468
- Walters, Natalie. November 23, 2016. TheStreet. Viacom (VIAB) Merging With CBS Again ‘Might Make Sense,’ Shari Redstone Says. Retrieved November 29, 2016. https://www.thestreet.com/story/13890410/1/viacom-viab-merging-with-cbs-again-might-make-sense-shari-redstone-says.html
- Fox, Emily Jane. October 19, 2016. The Hive. Will Les Moonves Soon Run Viacom, Too? Retrieved November 29, 2016. http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2016/10/les-moonves-cbs-viacom-merger
- Steele, Anne. November 15, 2016. Wall Street Journal. Viacom to Buy Argentina’s Telefe for $345 Million. Retrieved November 29, 2016. http://www.wsj.com/articles/viacom-to-buy-argentinas-telefe-for-345-million-1479231471
- James, Meg. October 31, 2016. LA Times. Viacom Names Robert Bakish as Acting CEO. Retrieved November 28, 2016. http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/envelope/cotown/la-et-ct-viacom-ceo-20161031-story.html
- James, Meg. November 9, 2016. LA Times. Paramount Quarterly Profit Plummets; Paramount Loses $137 million. Retrieved November 27, 2016. http://www.latimes.com/business/hollywood/la-fi-ct-viacom-earnings-paramount-20161108-story.html
- Orr, Emma and Shaw, Lucas. August 24, 2016. Bloomberg. Viacom Said to Rethink Resistance to $12 Billion Downgrade. Retrieved November 27, 2016. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-08-24/viacom-said-to-rethink-resistance-to-12-billion-debt-downgrade