Thursday, January 18, 2018

Viacom And CBS Are Seeking To Merge, According To Insiders *Updated 1/17*

Viacom and CBS vice-chairwoman Shari Redstone is pursuing a merger of the two media companies that split more than a decade ago, according to multiple insiders who spoke to TheWrap.


With the Hollywood landscape quickly shifting, Redstone, president of the privately-held National Amusements that controls both media companies, has concluded that a bigger footprint is necessary for the companies to thrive. CBS’ core business is broadcast television along with multiple digital properties, while Viacom holds cable channels like Nickelodeon and Comedy Central along with the Paramount movie studio.

A time frame for any potential merger is unclear, but three individuals with knowledge of the companies said that Redstone is actively moving in that direction, which represented another shift in her back-and-forth mindset on the matter.

Viacom and National Amusements declined to comment, and CBS had no immediate response to a request for comment.

Viacom shares reacted quickly to the news. Shares of the company, which controls MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and the Paramount movie studio, rose nearly 10% Friday, or $2.95 a share, to $33.76 a share from $30.90. Volume was strong – 12.45 million shares – compared to average volume of 5.07 million.

Shares of CBS rose more modestly, up 1.85%, or $1.07 a share, to $58.83 a share from $57.78. Volume was 6.19 million compared with average volume of 4.01 million.

CBS chairman Les Moonves, who has long resisted talk of recombining the companies, is now open to the possibility, the insiders said. He would be the most likely person to run the merged companies, though Redstone is considering other candidates, according to two insiders.

An individual close to Moonves acknowledged the process to TheWrap: “He’s having active discussions with Shari and the board on a wide variety of issues all the time, including this one. And those discussions continue with regard to looking to merge the two companies.”

One insider told TheWrap that Redstone was looking at other candidates because Moonves was demanding an ownership stake and she thought his demands were too rich. The individual close to Moonves disputed this, saying: “At no time has he asked for an ownership position.”

The move to merge the companies represents another reversal for Redstone, who directly appealed to CBS and Viacom to merge in September 2016, then retreated from this in the following months, presumably because of Moonves’ opposition.

In a letter in September 2016 to both boards from her parent company National Amusements, she touted the potential of “substantial synergies” that a merger would bring. She called on the boards to “respond even more aggressively and effectively” to combat the challenges they both faced.

Redstone later reconsidered after ousting Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman and replacing him with Bob Bakish — whom she installed after successfully wresting control of Viacom in a bruising boardroom and legal battle over succession plans involving her father, Sumner Resdstone.

“We talked about it, and what became apparent to me very quickly was that our assets were severely undervalued, which I had understood, but what I didn’t understand at the time was the significant upside that existed in our businesses once we had a good management team in place and the culture came back,” Redstone said at last May’s re/code conference.

The new merger talk comes amid a new period of consolidation in the entertainment and media industry. In December, Disney announced plans for a $52.4 billion acquisition of the bulk of 21st Century Fox’s movie and TV assets, while telecom giant AT&T is attempting to complete the $85.4 billion acquisition of Time Warner announced more than a year ago.

Meanwhile, the rise of streaming giant Netflix as well as the ambitious moves by tech giants like Amazon and Apple into the entertainment content space have set off a period of strategic change in the sector.

The market cap of Viacom is $12.7 billion, while the market cap of CBS is $23.2 billion.

In February 2016, the then 92-year-old Redstone stepped down as chairman of both Viacom and CBS amid questions about his age and mental competency. Moonves assumed the chairman title at CBS, while Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman was ousted and ultimately replaced by Robert Bakish.

Viacom and CBS had merged into a single company in 1999, which Sumner Redstone split in 2005 in an attempt to maximize shareholder value.

The Redstones control both the CBS and Viacom through their supervoting shares held by National Amusements.

As of December 2016, National Amusements, directly and through subsidiaries, holds approximately 79.8 percent of the Class A (voting) common stock of Viacom Inc., constituting 10 percent of the overall equity of the Company, and holds approximately 79.5 percent of the Class A (voting) common stock and 2.4 percent of the Class B (non‐voting) common stock of CBS Corporation, constituting 9.1 percent of the overall equity of the Company.
Also, from Variety:

Viacom, CBS Shares Rise After Report Suggests New Merger Talks Have Started

Shares of both Viacom Inc. and CBS Corp. rose noticeably Friday after a new report suggested the two companies, both controlled by the Redstone family, could once again be considering the prospect of merging.

A report in The Wrap suggested Shari Redstone, president of the family’s National Amusements movie-theater chain, had recently sparked new discussions within the companies about a possible merger. Her father, Sumner Redstone, had combined CBS and Viacom in 2000, only to pull them apart six years later. National Amusements in September of 2016 formally requested that the boards of both companies consider the possibility of a new merger on an all-stock basis, then stopped the process at the end of that year.

CBS declined to comment. A Viacom spokesman did not immediately respond to a query seeking comment.

The report comes as more media companies are considering tie-ups that would give them a larger footprint in a sector that has been flummoxed by new technology and consumer patterns. Monetizing viewership of content has become more difficult as consumers migrate to new video screens and behaviors that aren’t measured as easily, crimping the flow of advertising support and undermining media companies’ ability to lock in fees from distributors.

To fight back against these trends, a number of prominent media companies have set big acquisitions or outright mergers. Among the recent combinations: Charter Communications and Time Warner Cable and Lionsgate and Starz. Other tie-ups have been proposed but not completed. Discovery Communications is expected to finalize its purchase of Scripps Networks Interactive later this year. AT&T is pursuing legal options to finalize its proposed merger with Time Warner. And Walt Disney has agreed to purchase a substantial chunk of 21st Century Fox, including the 20th Century Fox movie studio, the FX and National Geographic cable networks and a passel of regional sports operations.

The companies that don’t embrace other assets have begun to look considerably smaller.

If a merger is being discussed, it is not on a fast track. A person familiar with the situation suggested no substantive steps in any process were taking place at the current time.

Viacom shares reacted quickly to the news. Shares of the company, which controls MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and the Paramount movie studio, rose nearly 10% Friday, or $2.95 a share, to $33.76 a share from $30.90. Volume was strong – 12.45 million shares – compared to average volume of 5.07 million.

Shares of CBS rose more modestly, up 1.85%, or $1.07 a share, to $58.83 a share from $57.78. Volume was 6.19 million compared with average volume of 4.01 million.

CBS has fared well in recent months, despite its medium size in the sector. The owner of the CBS broadcast network and the Showtime cable outlet has in recent months focused on maximizing the revenue it draws from its content by scrutinizing the fees it draws from retransmission and overseas syndication. Rather than make big acquisitions, CBS has launched a spate of new digital businesses, including the “CBS All Access” subscription video on demand service and a streaming-video news product, CBSN, that makes new use of content from CBS News. Leslie Moonves, the company’s chairman and CEO, has discussed the launch of a new streaming-video sports-content service and CBS has unveiled interesting plans for “All Access,” like a revival of the classic series, “The Twilight Zone.”

Viacom, meanwhile, has worked to recalibrate itself under a new leader. Bob Bakish took over as CEO of the company in December of 2016 and has since that time reorganized the company and placed new leaders in charge of MTV and set about to transform the company’s Spike cable outlet into a more general-entertainment property called the Paramount Network. A launch is slated in the days ahead. Bakish has also placed more emphasis on events related to some of the company’s big assets, including a new festival launched by Comedy Central.

###

Also, from the LA Times:

Shari Redstone once again eyeing a merger of CBS and Viacom

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, Amazaon.com 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.

###

Also, from Observer:

CBS and Viacom Reportedly Eyeing Merger

What once was broken may be made whole once again.

TheWrap is reporting that Viacom and CBS vice-chairwoman Shari Redstone is looking to merge the two media companies following their split in 2006.

Amid the Hollywood arms race that has seen AT&T attempt to acquire Time Warner and Disney swallowing up 21st Century Fox, Redstone, who serves as president of National Amusements Inc. and controls both media companies, is looking to scale her own business to keep pace.

CBS earns its keep with broadcast television—the small screen’s most-watched show, The Big Bang Theory, has them set up nicely—and several digital properties. Viacom owns Paramount Pictures, as well as popular cable destinations such as Comedy Central and Nickelodeon.

CBS led all television networks in total viewers last year, according to Nielsen data.

But how serious are these discussions? It depends on who you ask.

According to Reuters, “Viacom Inc and CBS Corp are not in active merger discussions, although controlling shareholder Shari Redstone has had exploratory conversations with CBS directors about recombining the companies.”

CBS declined Observer’s request to comment. Viacom has yet to respond, neither has National Amusements Inc.

No timeline for the potential deal has emerged yet, though TheWrap’s sources say Redstone is pushing for it. She and father Sumner Redstone unsuccessfully attempted to merge the two in 2016.

CBS chairman Les Moonves, who is said to have been against the merger for some time, is reportedly softening on that position. If the merger were to go through, he is thought to be the frontrunner to head both companies.

Here’s how one of TheWrap’s sources explained it: “He’s having active discussions with Shari and the board on a wide variety of issues all the time, including this one. And those discussions continue with regard to looking to merge the two companies.”

“I’m very confident that our unparalleled collection of businesses will continue to grow in their present form, as well as the many new platforms that are making a splash in the new media landscape,” Moonves said of the split back in 2006. The move was originally made to diversify the media conglomerate and regain the confidence of Wall Street investors.

This rumor pops up as other major deals are going down across Hollywood.

The aforementioned sale of Time Warner to AT&T comes with a price tag of $85.4 billion, while Disney’s acquisition of Fox set them back $52.4 billion. Some insiders have also posited that Apple is eyeing Netflix for an estimated $75 billion.

More details to come…

###

Also, from Reuters UK:

Shari Redstone explores adding new CBS directors - WSJ

(Reuters) - Shari Redstone, a controlling shareholder of CBS Corp (CBS.N), has discussed adding new directors to the CBS board as she renews her push to merge the company with Viacom Inc (VIAB.O), The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.

Shari Redstone and Sumner Redstone, her ailing 94-year-old father, together control both CBS and Viacom Inc (VIAB.O) through their privately owned movie theatre company, National Amusements Inc. The Redstones failed in an attempt to merge the two companies in 2016.

Shari Redstone, who is vice chair of the CBS board, has had exploratory conversations with CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonves and directors about recombining the companies, sources have told Reuters.

While Moonves is receptive to a combination, he has some reservations, sources have told Reuters.

Spokesmen for CBS and Viacom declined to comment.

CBS is looking to replace several of its directors at its annual shareholders meeting in May, and Shari Redstone is gathering names of possible candidates, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Shari Redstone’s push to revisit a CBS merger with Viacom has become more pressing in light of Walt Disney Co’s (DIS.N) planned acquisition of a majority of Twenty-First Century Fox Inc’s (FOXA.O) assets, the sources told Reuters.

A combined CBS, which owns cable networks including Showtime and The Movie Channel as well as the CBS TV Network and CBS TV Studios, and Viacom, whose businesses include Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon Movies and MTV Films, would have more negotiating leverage with cable and satellite companies.

In addition, Shari Redstone does not want to wait for the verdict on the U.S. Department of Justice’s lawsuit to block AT&T Inc’s (T.N) $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner Inc (TWX.N), which is set to go to trial in March, the sources told Reuters. The Justice Department is suing to block that deal on the grounds that it is anti-competitive.

If that deal were to fall through, it would mean both AT&T and Time Warner Inc may look for other companies to combine with, sources have said.

Viacom’s new CEO, Bob Bakish, has improved relations with distributors, found financing for Paramount Pictures after Chinese investors dropped out and shuffled programming.

Even so, Viacom’s stock is trading around $32 a share, below the $35-$38.80 range it was trading at when it and CBS explored a merger in late 2016.

It is unclear if the valuation and corporate governance issues that caused the deal to fail in 2016 remain.

Some analysts said they believe the selloff in Viacom, along with the consolidation in the media space, should prompt CBS to revisit the deal.

“We think now is as good a time as any to reexamine why we continue to believe this deal is the most logical and appropriate transaction to take place within our media coverage universe,” MoffettNathanson analysts wrote this week.

###

Also, via The Hollywood Reporter:

Shari Redstone Pushing for New Board at CBS (Report)

There are no active talks to merge the companies as of the moment.

If the board of directors at CBS isn't keen on merging the company with Viacom, then some of the directors apparently need to be replaced.

At least that's what Shari Redstone might be advocating, The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.

Redstone and her family control both Viacom and CBS through their large stake in National Amusements, and insiders say she's been getting serious about her desire to see the two media companies combined again, as they were prior to splitting Viacom in two back in 2005.

CBS CEO Les Moonves and some others on the board, though, have been resisting, and CBS investors appear to be siding with them. On Wednesday, for example, Viacom shares jumped 4 percent at the prospect of a new merger-friendly board at CBS, while shares of CBS fell 2 percent.

Rumors that CBS will merge with Viacom pop up often, most recently last week, though by Monday it appeared to Wall Street that there was nothing concrete in the works, which removed a catalyst for Viacom's long-suffering stock to move higher.

On Tuesday, in fact, Rosenblatt Securities analyst Alan Gould lowered his rating on Viacom stock to "sell" based on his opinion that it won't merge with CBS anytime soon, while he reiterated a "buy" recommendation on CBS. The analyst says CBS would make a better partner with Verizon, among others, than it would with Viacom.

While insiders tell The Hollywood Reporter that there are no active talks to merge Viacom and CBS right now, the Journal says that Redstone reached out to Moonves earlier this month to request that he start negotiating as early as this quarter.

Investors on both sides appear to be clamoring for something dramatic to happen, as shares of both Viacom and CBS trade for less than they did a year ago even as the stock market in general has been on a powerful bull run.

Plus, AT&T's pending acquisition of Time Warner and Disney's pending acquisition of most of 21st Century Fox has Wall Street presuming that media companies need to grow bigger, quickly, through acquisition, if they're to remain competitive.

CBS had no comment, and Viacom was not available for comment.

---

Also, from Variety:

Revival of CBS-Viacom Merger Talk Sows Tension Within Redstone Empire, Again

Chatter about Shari Redstone revving up an effort to recombine Viacom and CBS Corp. is sowing tension within both companies.

CBS insiders were aghast at a report in the Wall Street Journal Wednesday citing Redstone’s concern about a lack of long-term strategic planning at the Eye and the level of independence among its board members.

Meanwhile, Viacom executives are once again nervous about the potential for consolidation with CBS to bring wholesale changes to the management of the company, particularly the cable networks division. The sentiment among insiders is that things have only just started to settle down after a year of turmoil in 2016, before Bob Bakish was named permanent CEO in December of that year.

“Here we go again,” said an executive at Viacom’s MTV Networks.

Sources at both companies expressed surprise and frustration that the first stirrings of a re-merger effort are emerging through media reports rather than through the board room. A rep for Redstone declined to comment.


Redstone, who is vice chairman of Viacom and CBS, went public with her desire for the companies to reunite in the fall of 2016 but ultimately backed down after pushback from both boards on questions of price and governance. At that time, Viacom was on the ropes after a months-long legal battle between controlling shareholder Sumner Redstone, Shari Redstone and former Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman.

CBS and Viacom were first brought together by Sumner Redstone in 2000. But six years later, the mogul opted to re-divide the companies into separate entities. At the time, Redstone said he thought it would help both companies realize their true valuation from the market. Shari Redstone is on record as having opposed the split back in 2005.

The $52.4 billion deal unveiled last month by Disney to acquire 21st Century Fox has quickly heightened pressure on smaller media conglomerates like CBS Corp. and Viacom to bulk up or be seen as a takeover target. The Redstones’ tight control of CBS and Viacom has frustrated past efforts for CBS Corp. chairman-CEO Leslie Moonves to engage in merger conversations with prospective partners such as Time Warner, Lionsgate and more recently, Verizon.

It’s understood that Shari Redstone has insisted Viacom be part of any M&A conversations involving CBS. That’s a big hurdle for suitors who might be interested in CBS’ broadcast assets and its vast library of TV shows.

Viacom’s biggest drawback is its reliance on the MTV Networks division as its engine of earnings and profits. Not only are the core Viacom cablers (MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central) facing ratings challenges, as is every other traditional TV outlet, but it’s clear that Viacom will have to shed some of its lower-profile channels in the coming years. How to put a price on those lesser channels today, given their steadily diminishing value, was a big part of the obstacle to re-merger discussions in 2016.

The coolness from top brass at CBS to a deal with Viacom has been palpable. It’s seen as a rescue effort for Viacom, which is still battling tough forecasts of declining affiliate and advertising revenue for its cable networks in the coming years. Viacom is also still in the early stages of a management turnover at Paramount Pictures, which hemorrhaged red ink during the previous three years.

CBS, on the other hand, has ridden the boom in content licensing to a series of record quarters. In March 2016, CBS laid out a five-year strategic plan at a daylong investor presentation in which it cited content licensing, international expansion, retransmission consent revenue, and new streaming platforms including CBS All Access and Showtime as pillars of its growth plan.

The Eye committed at that presentation to deliver 8 million OTT subscribers by 2020; last August, Moonves said CBS All Access and Showtime’s standalone streaming service were more than halfway to that goal. Retrans revenue, a big driver of profits, is projected to hit $2.5 billion annually by 2020.

On the international front, CBS has expanded Showtime’s reach in key foreign markets for the first time during the past two years, and it also swooped in on the fire sale of Australia’s Network Ten in November.

The level of detail that CBS laid out in 2016 and the progress reports delivered since then were cited by multiple CBS sources who were outraged by the reference to a lack of long-term planning in the Journal report, which cited multiple sources familiar with Redstone’s thinking.

The reported drive by Redstone to find replacements for some of CBS’ board members also rankled insiders, given the prominence of independent directors such as former Bank of America chairman Charles Gifford, former senator and Defense Secretary William Cohen, former NAACP president Bruce Gordon, and Harvard Law School dean Martha Minow. CBS typically holds its annual meeting in May. It’s unclear how many directors will be up for re-election at that time.

Sources said there is consternation within CBS over fears that tension between Moonves and Redstone could be destabilizing overall for the company. Sources close to the situation said that as of Wednesday, there have been no formal steps to initiate merger talks between the two boards.

---

Also, from Deadline:

Wall Street Has Mixed Response To Word Of Renewed Viacom-CBS Talks

UPDATED at 2:20 pm: Investor reaction has been mixed this afternoon to renewed speculation that CBS and Viacom are about to recombine.

A Wall Street Journal report this afternoon confirmed a story late last week that the former corporate siblings were again exploring a merger. An hour before the close of trading today, Viacom shares are up 2% to $31.96, given the perceived benefits of tying a cable-bundle-dependent company to the No. 1 broadcaster.

The two companies merged in 1999 in a then-momentous transaction, before parting ways in 2006. They had previously explored coming together again before abandoning plans in 2016. Given the Disney-Fox deal, AT&T’s pending takeover of Time Warner and a host of others, the urgency is growing for next-tier players to gain scale.


Sources said CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonves had been deeply skeptical in 2016 about the value of the combining the broadcaster, which was thriving, with the struggling Viacom. And Viacom was optimistic about its prospects under the new leadership of Robert Bakish.

But the media landscape has shifted substantially since then.

“It’s ludicrous to thinking CBS and Viacom can be stand-alone companies,” said BTIG’s veteran media analyst Richard Greenfield. “It’s 18 months delayed for no reason other than Les Moonves’ obstinance. That’s what stopped this deal. In a world where Disney and Fox are merging, his obstinance no longer matters.:

What does matter, in the current climate, is scale. Content companies need a stronger balance sheet, in order to pursue sports, or need to amass a more content for an over-the-top service. CBS’s streaming service would be bolstered by Viacom’s wealth of children’s programming through Nickelodeon, Greenfield notes, not to mention Paramount’s film library.

According to the Journal, Shari Redstone is the chief proponent of the idea. She contacted CBS CEO Leslie Moonves, who previously had resisted the notion, to renew discussions about merging the broadcaster with Viacom.

The Redstone family controls CBS and Viacom through their holding company, National Amusements.

###

Originally published: Saturday, January 13, 2018.

More Nick: 2018 on Nickelodeon USA | New Shows, Specials, Events, Movies, Episodes, and More!
Follow NickALive! on Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, via RSS, on Instagram, and/or Facebook for the latest Nickelodeon News and Highlights!

No comments: