Viacom Sets Another Stock-Buyback Program

New York -- Viacom’s board of directors authorized the media giant to repurchase up to $4 billion of the company’s stock over time.

The new program will replace a $3 billion repurchase program initiated in 2006, which should expire soon. Viacom has already repurchased about $2.7 billion of its stock through the earlier program.

At the company’s annual meeting of shareholders here Wednesday, CEO Philippe Dauman said the new buyback plan is a reflection of the board of directors’ confidence in Viacom’s management team and its plans for growth.

He added that after growing revenue 19% and earnings per share 16% in 2006, Viacom will continue with its five-point strategy for growth: creating more original programming, expanding its revenue opportunities through strategic relationships, identifying new revenue streams, growing its international business and executing on that strategy.

Dauman said Viacom has already made headway on that five-point plan -- it reached partnerships withJoost to distribute its content online and withYahoo for sponsored search of its Web sites; it developed a direct-to-DVD business; and it is exploring the potential of expanding its product-licensing business.

He added that he is “absolutely confident we will meet and surpass” his target of doubling Viacom’s digital revenue to $500 million in 2007.

On the original-programming front, Dauman pointed to its three-year effort to move programming on its BET Networks away from music videos to more original content. He added that BETplans 16 new shows this year, “and we will build on that.”

Dauman also deflected criticism concerning racist and misogynistic language in some rap-music videos aired on its channels, adding that Viacom screens all videos on its networks for objectionable language and images and removes what could be offensive to most viewers.

“There is clearly more to be done in that area,” he said, adding that overall, he is proud of the programming on Viacom’s 30 domestic and more than 100 international networks.

“When you have that much programming, sometimes things slip through,” Dauman added. “We are very responsive to our audience and we respond to what they want to see and hear.”