Embattled Viacom executive chairman and CEO Philippe Dauman, locked in an increasingly bitter fight with the media company’s largest shareholder Sumner Redstone, joked that he preferred to create content than to be it, told a mainly sympathetic audience at an industry conference that the company plans to go ahead with its Paramount movie studio sale, albeit on a longer schedule.
Dauman has traded lawsuits with Redstone ever since the media mogul kicked him off the trust that would control 80% of Viacom’s voting shares in the event of his death or incapacitation. Dauman has filed suit in Massachusetts Probate Court to block the move, claiming Redstone no longer has the mental capacity to manage his affairs and that Redstone’s daughter Shari is exacting undue influence on her father.
Dauman opened his session at Thursday's Gabelli Movie & Entertainment conference in New York, briefly addressing the stand-off.
“I’ve been involved with the company for more than 30 years and this is certainly unique, and the one takeaway I have is, it’s a lot more fun creating the content than being the content,” Dauman said. He thanked Viacom’s employees for continuing to create great content “despite everything that is going on.”
Dauman then launched into a presentation describing Viacom’s business – Nickelodeon is doing “great,” with the top three animated shows on cable and “a lot of vitality.” He also said Viacom has successfully renewed its biggest cable distribution deals over the past two years, adding that the programmer doesn’t have a major negotiation for this fiscal year or next.
As for its movie studio, Paramount Pictures, plans are still to go ahead with the sale of a minority interest. While that sale has been the source of much of Redstone’s ire – he recently changed the bylaws of the holding company that contains his Viacom shares that would prevent a Paramount sale without a unanimous board vote.
Dauman said that originally Viacom had fielded interest in buying the stake from about 40 companies and is now having more detailed discussions with a smaller list of players. While those negotiations are going forward, he said in light of “recent events,” the company will miss the June 30 deadline for the sale.
“We are continuing to explore the potential of unlocking value with select partners with strategic value,” Dauman said.
Still, Dauman said that whoever buys the stake would be an “interesting partner” for Viacom as well. He estimated the sale would unlock about $10 or more per share of value for Viacom shareholders, helping the company move forward with its strategic plan and provide cash to help pay down debt.
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