For the past several years, there have been efforts to put back together two companies that were separated in 2005. Viacom Inc. (NYSE: VIAB) and CBS Corp. (NYSE: CBS) were split mainly because the shareholder who controlled the combined firm, Sumner Redstone, thought two public corporations would be worth more in the stock market. Talks to merge Viacom and CBS have been restarted, according to the New York Post.
Redstone still controls both companies, but he is very old. His daughter, Sheri, serves on the CBS and Viacom boards and has voting rights at each via a firm called Nation Amusements, which makes her the catalyst for the merger. The chief executive officer of CBS, Les Moonves, who objected to the marriage off and on, is out because of sexual harassment charges. That left interim CEO Joe Ianniello to run CBS. The board is looking for a new chief executive. Robert Bakish is the CEO of Viacom.
The New York Post speculates that the open question about who will run the company is a major part of the marriage negotiations. The merger would be complicated, so a CEO would have to be familiar with the process of how a merger is restructured.
The merger is a necessity. CBS is primarily a broadcast network with news, entertainment and sports content in a sea of competition that is dominated by companies like Walt Disney, which recently bought most of the assets of 21st Century Fox. AT&T is another giant, which recently bought Time Warner, adding CNN and some entertainment channels and Warner Bros. Viacom is also much smaller than these. It owns several cable television channels. It also owns the Paramount studio. Together, Viacom and CBS might be able to compete against these much larger corporations.
Viacom and CBS also compete with other companies that have built huge libraries of entertainment assets and have begun the process that will allow them to offer live TV. At the head of the pack are Netflix, which has 139 million subscribers worldwide, and the Amazon Prime, which has a streaming media product. Prime has over 100 million subscribers worldwide.
The key issue about a Viacom merger with CBS is less about who should be CEO and more about whether the two companies will be large enough to compete in a world in which there are larger companies with more entertainment assets and larger customer bases.