Viacom Cable Assets Focus of Speculation Post-Split

Jun 20, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Now that the Viacom board has approved plans to split the company into two publicly traded operating entities, conversations on Wall Street are turning to what might be next for the two new operations.

Much of the speculation centers on the high-growth cable assets, which will retain the Viacom name after the split is completed by the 2006 first quarter. Speculation abounds as to whether the cable-dominant company will immediately begin eyeing targets for acquisition or if the new Viacom itself will become an acquisition target.

To be sure, this kind of speculation is early in the game, and whether any of it comes to fruition depends largely on Viacom Chairman and CEO Sumner Redstone, who will remain controlling shareholder and serve as chairman and CEO of both the new Viacom and CBS Corp., the other offspring created by the split. However, Richard Greenfield, a media analyst at Fulcrum Global Partners, noted that the new Viacom would be the only pure-play cable channel company that controls all of its cash flows-something that could be very attractive to a number of would-be buyers.

“While Mr. Redstone will control the new entity and would have to decide to sell, we believe there are a large number of potential acquirers who will want/need the new Viacom’s assets,” Mr. Greenfield said in a research note.

The proposed split would be a tax-free spinoff, with the new Viacom led by Viacom co-Chief Operating Officer Tom Freston. The new Viacom would comprise MTV Networks, BET, Paramount Pictures, Paramount Home Entertainment and Famous Music. The remaining assets would fall under the proposed name of CBS Corp. and would be led by Viacom co-COO Leslie Moonves. CBS Corp. would include the CBS and UPN television networks, Infinity Broadcasting, Viacom Outdoor, the CBS, Paramount and King World television production units, premium cable network Showtime, publishing giant Simon & Schuster and the Paramount Parks theme-park business.

The Viacom board elected Viacom Chairman and CEO Sumner Redstone’s daughter, Shari Redstone, to nonexecutive vice-chairman of the board, another move that had been widely expected. She previously was a board member.