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Viacom And CBS Are Seeking To Merge, According To Insiders

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.

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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.

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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…

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