Paramount will continue to ride movie franchises Mission Impossible, Star Trek, GI Joe, and World War Z and roll out animated films for SpongeBob SquarePants and Monster Trucks, the company told analysts this morning as execs offered a rosy picture of Viacom’s growth prospects. CEO Philippe Dauman also crowed about the attention that Miley Cyrus’ sexually charged dancing brought to MTV’s Video Music Awards in August, calling it a “moment that is still reverberating across the pop culture landscape.” But some investors likely will be more concerned about the company’s acknowledgement that the original programming planned for its pay TV networks will drive costs up by a high single digit rate in 2014. “Original programming gives us the ability to build our brand better,” Dauman says. “It creates a lot of value for us.” In addition, Viacom says that its stock repurchases — which accelerated to $2.7B in the September quarter — will come closer to $850M in the three months ending in December. READ MORE »
That doesn’t necessarily mean Viacom will skimp on spending where needed, CEO Philippe Dauman told investors at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference. For example, Paramount has a new Transformers film planned for next year that has “a very high budget but very low risk. Same with Mission: Impossible and some of the other franchises.” With new versions of its latest franchise, World War Z, “we will alleviate the risk by bringing in co-financing.” Broadly speaking, though, “we have a history even in tough times of maintaining or growing margins” and that means keeping “a tight lid on expenses, including in programming.” At the movie studio Dauman expects to distribute about 15 films a year including three animated titles in 2015. But he adds that he’s “excited” about next month’s Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa with Johnny Knoxville, which Dauman calls “a fun movie, and a profitable one.” He’s also optimistic about Paramount’s revived television production operation.
Shares opened up more than 4% this morning after Philippe Dauman reassured investors that Viacom will continue to generate lots of cash from deals with streaming services — even if its program licensing pact with Netflix expires at the end of this month. “We’re still in discussions with Netflix…and with others,” he told analysts in a conference call. “We’re open to licensing content, some of it on an exclusive basis.” Netflix CEO Reed Hastings raised some fears last week when he said that his company would let its current deal with Viacom expire. Netflix is shifting its focus to “exclusive and curated content” as opposed to “non-exclusive, bulk content deals,” he said. The streaming service would be fine without Nickelodeon shows because “with all the recently added fresh programming from Disney, Cartoon Network, Hasbro’s The Hub and DreamWorks Animation, we have a great kids offering.” But Dauman also says that Viacom has little to fear without Netflix — and has “enough visibility” to know that the entertainment company can realize its forecast to see streaming revenues grow 10% this fiscal year.
The drop reflects a decline in one-time stock awards and non-equity incentives — and isn’t a reflection of the company’s view of the CEO’s performance — according to the proxy statement Viacom just filed at the SEC. Viacom …
Philippe Dauman Doesn’t Rule Out A ‘Book Of Mormon’ Movie, But Discourages Talk Of Studio Consolidation
The Viacom CEO told an investor conference this morning that his company has “a small investment” in the Broadway musical hit from South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker. And although he didn’t directly address a question about whether Paramount might turn The Book Of Mormon into a film, he seemed to indicate that it’s a possibility: “We love working with the two of them,” he said, adding that “we always look for opportunities to work with them.” He made the comments at the Gabelli Best Ideas Conference where, in reviewing Viacom’s operations, he touted recent changes at Paramount. With a strategy designed to minimize risk, he says, “you’ll never see us with a John Carter” — a reference to Disney’s big-budget disappointment this year. He supported the effort to slash Paramount’s production slate from as many as 30 releases a year to about 15 “concentrating on franchise films and our brands…We have been reducing the overhead at Paramount year after year.” He added that “the film business is one where you have to control the cost.”
It had long been thought that after a falling out with his daughter years ago that Viacom and CBS Corp chairman Sumner Redstone would hand over the keys to his empire to Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman. But the 89-year-old Redstone told the Wall Street Journal that he’s still deciding on who will replace him to oversee his controlling interest in both companies, and that “my family will ultimately inherit the business”. “It hasn’t been decided yet who will be my successor. And Philippe knows it”, the mogul told the WSJ in an interview published today. “He knows that Shari might be my successor and it’s not a competitive race between them. We have to see what happens.” Shari Redstone, 58, controls 20% of National Amusements, the holding company that controls Viacom and CBS Corp, with her father holding the rest of the stake. Combined, their holdings in Viacom and CBS are worth about $3.5 billion, the paper says. “Philippe understands that my family is important and it could be Shari. I don’t say it will be. It could be either one or both,” Redstone said, adding later that it is likely Dauman would inherit his chairman role at Viacom and that CBS CEO Les Moonves would become chairman of CBS (though after the WSJ interview, Redstone emailed the paper to say that the boards of the companies will “ultimately decide who becomes chairman of each company”).
The company has pushed back on a lawsuit that claimsViacom chairman Sumner Redstone, CEO Philippe Dauman, COO Thomas Dooley and other board members were overpaid by $36.6 million. “Defendants respectfully request that the Court dismiss the Complaint with prejudice,” said Viacom’s lawyers in a memorandum (read it here) accompanying the motion filed yesterday in Delaware. “Viacom and the Director Defendants (together, the “Defendants”) bring this motion …on the grounds that no demand was made on the Board to bring suit and the Complaint does not adequately allege demand on the Board would be futile and hence excused.” The company also says that shareholder Robert Freedman has not shown in his suit that the board isn’t independent and didn’t make the payout based on evaluated performance of the compensated executives. Freedman filed his initial complaint August 17. He wants the executives to repay the $36,645.750 they received plus his legal fees.
That’s emerged as one of the day’s most talked about questions in media business circles — and it’s an unexpected one after Viacom’s worse-than-expected earnings report Friday morning for the quarter that ended in June. Oddly enough, investors responded by driving Viacom shares +5.6% over the last two trading days, well ahead of the overall market. What’s going on? Analysts who are bullish on the stock say it’s time to jump on a bargain. Viacom’s been beaten up in the year since it began to report plummeting ratings at some of its most important channels including Nickelodeon and MTV. It trades for about 9.6 times its estimated earnings per share for next year — lower than peers including Comcast (15.7 times), Disney (14.3 times), News Corp (13.8 times), CBS (12.3 times), and Time Warner (11.3 times). But CEO Philippe Dauman encouraged analysts on Friday to believe that a turn-around is near. Lazard Capital Markets’ Barton Crockett says he’s “more optimistic about a company whose recent ratings challenges earn it standing as this year’s ’Dog of the Dial’.”
Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman has told investors that he sees a big opportunity for his company to grow by promoting sales of consumer products tied to its entertainment brands. Here’s how Comedy Central plans to chip in:
NEW YORK, July 9, 2012 — COMEDY CENTRAL, the #1 brand in comedy, has created COMEDY CENTRAL Enterprises, a new business division that will focus on building upon COMEDY CENTRAL’s leadership position in the industry through consumer products, home video, CDs and digital downloads, publishing, and live touring, it was announced today by Michele Ganeless, President, COMEDY CENTRAL. Mitch Fried has been promoted to the newly formed position of Executive Vice President, COMEDY CENTRAL Enterprises and will head up the new business division, reporting to Ganeless. Fried was formerly Senior Vice President, COMEDY CENTRAL Live Entertainment.
The folks at CNBC’s Squawk Box didn’t even try to challenge Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman’s talking points in his appearance on the show this morning. He acknowledged that the company has “a few ratings issues” — a euphemism for the situation at Nickelodeon where the audience is down 28.5% so far this …