Viacom Considers Buying Cable Networks, Selling Smaller-Market TV Stations

Jan 11, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Viacom is looking to acquire more cable networks but is considering shedding television stations in some smaller markets as the company pursues a goal of refining its asset mix, two of the media giant’s top executives said Tuesday.

“We are in the market for any good cable channels that are in our price range,” said Viacom Chairman and CEO Sumner Redstone, speaking at a Smith Barney investor conference in Phoenix, though he admitted such networks are a “rare commodity.”

At the same time, Viacom co-President and co-Chief Operating Officer Leslie Moonves said the company may also sell off some of its television stations in smaller markets, though he provided no details of which properties could be put up for sale. Viacom owns 20 CBS stations and 18 UPN stations.

The comments come as Mr. Redstone, Mr. Moonves and co-President and co-COO Tom Freston continue to put their management stamp on the company following the ouster last May of Mel Karmazin. Mr. Moonves and Mr. Redstone both said the focus going forward will be on directing funds to Viacom operations that were starved under Mr. Karmazin’s rule.

“We have a lot of opportunities,” Mr. Redstone said. “We have been underinvested in the past three years in many of our businesses. That’s over.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Redstone admitted that naming Brad Grey as CEO of Paramount Pictures was “outside the envelope,” but said “he is right for the job.” Mr. Redstone said that he and Mr. Freston spent a month negotiating with Mr. Grey to lure him to Paramount, and he noted that Mr. Grey “gave up a lot” to join the studio. He added that while Mr. Grey’s compensation package ended up being “slightly above the normal compensation for the head of a studio,” it’s worth it because of what Mr. Grey is giving up and what Viacom is getting.

Mr. Moonves said that the combination of King World and Paramount Television’s international operations does not portend a similar consolidation on the domestic side, noting that each operation is “functioning at A+.”

The pondering of a cable network acquisition comes as the company rethinks the importance of its A-minus credit rating. Mr. Redstone said Viacom is deciding whether to reduce its credit rating one notch to BBB-plus to increase the company’s leverage, have greater borrowing capacity for such acquisitions and increase Viacom’s share buyback program.