Viacom Says It May Split Company

Mar 16, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Viacom on Wednesday said its board of directors is exploring the possibility of splitting the media giant into two publicly traded companies as a means of jump-starting the company’s stock price, which has languished for a number of years.

While the particulars haven’t been sorted out, the company said the board is considering splitting its cable and film operations from its broadcast television and radio businesses. The former entity would be run by Viacom co-Chief Operating Officer Tom Freston, who now oversees cable and film, while the latter would be managed by co-COO Leslie Moonves, whose responsibility includes broadcast networks CBS and UPN and Infinity Radio.

The board is expected to make a decision in the second quarter.

Viacom’s announcement comes a day after Liberty Media announced that it plans to combine its 50 percent stake in Discovery Communications with Ascent Media, a programming services company 100 percent owned by Liberty, in a new public company to be called Discovery Holdings.

Both Liberty’s and Viacom’s moves appear to be at least partly rooted in a desire to provide a boost to their respective stock prices, which like those of many media companies have floundered in recent years.

“We believe that a separation of our businesses into distinct and strong operating entities would allow us to optimize our capital structure and create unique investments that are more appealing to investors with different objectives,” Viacom Chairman and CEO Sumner Redstone said.

Though the announcement came after the market closed, Wall Street clearly had a hint that the company was about to announce something. Shares surged in the final minutes of the trading day, and by the close, Viacom’s widely traded Class B shares advanced more than 6 percent to $36 a share.