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. READ MORE »
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 …
Bernstein Research analyst Todd Juenger has written several provocative reports in the five months since he began covering media for the investment company — but his blast today at Viacom ranks among his toughest yet. Juenger lowered his price target by $1 to $47 warning investors that, with the steep ratings declines at Nickelodeon and MTV, “it is no longer inconceivable that a distributor would drop Viacom, or at least engage in a public battle with them over price increases.” While the odds of a Viacom black out are low, the mere possibility could make a world of difference to Wall Street: If CEO Philippe Dauman can’t extract high-single digit annual fee increases from cable and satellite companies then “the Viacom story would unravel.” It’s hard to say when Viacom might run into trouble, if it happens at all. “The timing of (its) affiliate fee negotiations remain the best kept secret in media,” Juenger says. But he adds that prudent investors should lighten up on their Viacom holdings “before such an event took place.”
Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman doesn’t sound anything like Dwight Eisenhower, but he seems to to have the architect of D-Day in mind when he talks about his broad plan to invade retail shelves with licensed merchandise. At Paramount, “for the most part we’re going to greenlight films with consumer products potential,” he told investors today at the Nomura U.S. Media & Telecom Summit. That’s key to his goal for Paramount to “focus on profitability” especially by integrating with other Viacom businesses. He’s particularly excited about Viacom’s plans to relaunch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which Viacom bought for $60M in 2009. The characters will appear in an animated series on Nickelodeon this fall and in a film on Christmas 2013. ”Everybody knows the history of it and are excited by the way it’s been reinvented,” Dauman says. “Once you get that strength at the retailer level, it allows you to layer in more properties.” It also ties in with his plan to develop new programs — and marketable characters — to help revive Nickelodeon from its ratings slump. “Nickelodeon will show improvement and it won’t take that long,” he says. Dauman adds that his interest in retail sales contributed to his decision to buy a stake in an Italian animation company with the popular Winx Club franchise, which has “good consumer products for girls.”
Viacom was “due for an increase,” Wells Fargo Securities analyst Marci Ryvicker says — although she expected a 20% bump. The company raised its dividend on May 25, 2011, and June 9, 2010. Also, it’s generating cash and has a healthy balance sheet. She figures Viacom will make $560M in dividend payments over the next 12 months, equal to about 20% of its free cash flow. CEO Philippe Dauman says that “returning value to our shareholders is a priority for Viacom.” Shares ended the day up 0.7% at $47.21. Here’s the announcement:
UPDATE, 7:00 AM: CEO Philippe Dauman rejects the growing view — articulated yesterday by Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes — that Nickelodeon’s ratings are down because kids are watching much of the channel’s content on Netflix. “There is no silver bullet” Dauman told analysts who wanted to know about the 32% drop in Nick’s audience so far in 2012. Viacom says that Netflix can’t be the culprit: Less than 25% of TV watchers get Netflix, and the time kids spend watching Nickelodeon content on Netflix only amounts to 2% of the viewing time for the cable channel. Even if Netflix-watching kids stopped viewing the cable channel, he says, “it would have minimal impact.” Meanwhile, “we are getting nice revenues from these (subscription VOD) deals.” Dauman still believes that Nick’s woes are at least partly due to glitches in the Nielsen rating system. In addition, he says there’s been “compelling programming on some of our competitors.” Dauman says not to worry: “We’ve seen this level of impact on other major networks in the past and we’ve overcome it….This is what we do.” He says he remains confident that investments in new Nickelodeon programming — including a revival of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise — “will gradually build on our ratings and we will not stop until Nickelodeon gets to bigger and better places….We feel very, very good about the direction. The pipeline is extremely strong.”
I don’t know whether Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone’s appearance at this morning’s 45-minute annual meeting will do enough to end the speculation that the 88-year-old majority shareholder is becoming frail. Although he showed up — something he briefly said last week that he couldn’t do, due to a scheduling conflict — attendees couldn’t see him walk to or from the dais. When the meeting began the company pulled back a curtain to show Redstone, CEO Philippe Dauman, and General Counsel Michael Fricklas seated at a table. The curtain closed on Redstone when the event ended. He appeared moderately engaged throughout the session, after reading from a prepared statement. Paraphrasing “my very good friend Mark Twain, who couldn’t be here today,” he said, “my absence from this meeting has been greatly exaggerated.”
Dauman then led the session. He said that Paramount yesterday greenlighted a 3D movie with singer Katy Perry, to be called Part Of Me, that will be released this summer. He also acknowledged that plans are in the works for another Mission: Impossible sequel. Dauman said that cable channel Nick Jr will introduce a “Nick Mom” evening programming block beginning this fall. And he says that he’s enthusiastic about the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles TV series launching on Nickelodeon later this year — to be followed by a Paramount film due out by the end of 2013. Dauman added that the company plans a global consumer products initiative for the franchise. “It’ll be a big hit,” he says.