Nobody would blame CBS and Viacom mogul Sumner Redstone for looking to retire. At 91 years-of-age anyone might expect him to step aside and leave the running of his global business to either of two extremely competent senior managers, or even his daughter Shari Redstone, to succeed him.
One of the challenges is that CBS and Viacom are two giant divisions of the Redstone family business. But late on May 7th Redstone said, almost in the words of Mark Twain who famously said that reports of his death had been greatly exaggerated, that he had not yet made a decision. “After my death, my ownership interest in the companies will be overseen by a group of seven trustees who will make fiduciary decisions based solely on the best interests of the beneficiaries of the trust,” he added in the statement. “Until then I will continue to make all such decisions.”
Redstone controls some 80 per cent of the voting shares in CBS and Viacom through his ‘family business’ National Amusements, formerly a chain of cinemas. However, Redstone himself was not present on the May 8th presentations, and his absence has not helped press speculation about his health. Redstone’s statement added: ”Decisions about who will succeed me as chairman of CBS and Viacom will be made by the Boards of the respective companies, and not by any individual.”
But the trustees he mentions include Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman and daughter Shari. She has not always seen eye-to-eye with her father, and there have been more than a few family squabbles over the years. But also waiting in the wings to take over is CBS boss Les Moonves.
Redstone’s statement followed on from considerable press speculation on the future of the media companies and a set of appealing numbers at broadcast network CBS. CBS’ overall numbers were better than expected. The CBS numbers were: Entertainment, $2.26B (down 1.8 per cent); Cable Networks, $539M (up 0.3 per cent); Publishing, $145M (down 5 per cent); Local Broadcasting, $596M (down 4.8 per cent), Content licensing and distribution revenues decreased 4 per cent, while affiliate and subscription fees increased 11 per cent. Overall revenues of $3.50 billion beat the average analyst expecations of $3.44 billion.