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Moonves backed at CBS as Viacom fight looms

Shari Redstone has backed Les Moonves to “lead CBS into the digital future” after he was nominated to succeed her father as chairman of the US broadcaster, amid growing speculation over Viacom’s future.

Les_MoonvesMoonves, currently president and CEO of CBS, is to become its chairman, with Sumner Redstone, 92, who controls both CBS and Viacom through his National Amusements company, stepping down as executive chairman.

However, it appears Shari Redstone does not want a similar situation, whereby the CEO becomes chairman, to play out at cable networks company Viacom.

A statement she released yesterday has fuelled speculation she would not back Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman (below, right), who is one of seven people on Redstone Sr.’s trustee board and a potential successor at National Amusements, as chairman.

“As has been accurately reported, my father’s trust states his intention that I succeed him as [non-executive] chair at CBS and Viacom, and also names me as a trustee after his death,” she said.

“However, it is my firm belief that whoever may succeed my father as chair at each company should be someone who is not a trustee of my father’s trust or otherwise intertwined in Redstone family matters, but rather a leader with an independent voice.”

Viacom has not responded directly to the developments, but said in a terse statement yesterday: “The Viacom board of directors is scheduled to meet tomorrow.”

Shari Redstone’s statement added Moonves would follow “in the visionary tradition” of her father and was “delighted to congratulate him on his new position”.

Moonves has been widely credited with CBS’s continued strong performance in the US broadcast market, and for launching direct-to-consumer products such as CBS All Access that have eased fears of industry-wide declines in TV viewership among some investor and analyst circles.

Philippe DaumanHe will continue as president and CEO, with Sumner Redstone taking on the honorary title of CBS chairman emeritus.

Shari Redstone will continue as vice chair, having declined a non-exec chair post “in light of her other professional and personal responsibilities, and in recognition of her confidence in Mr. Moonves”, according to a CBS statement.

She also remains as managing partner of early-stage investment firm Advancit Capital, and president of National Amusements.

Moonves said he was “particularly grateful that Shari Redstone has agreed to continue in her role as vice chair of the company”, adding: “Her business acumen and knowledge of the media space remain very important to me as we move forward, and I greatly appreciate her support and invaluable counsel.”

Moonves joined CBS in 1995 from Warner Bros. Television. It has previously been reported he has explored buying a controlling shareholding in the network, and he has signed a deal that would allow him to launch a CBS-backed media company in 2019 should he choose to leave.

Viacom, meanwhile, underwent huge staff cuts and cost-saving exercises last year, while its core cable channels – Comedy Central, MTV and Nickelodeon most notably – have struggled with ratings.

Dauman, however, has been widely tipped to succeed Sumner Redstone, which is believed to have sparked a battle for control.

Viacom was originally a division of CBS, but bought its parent in 1999 before a 2005 split led to the creation of the current set-up, in which CBS and Viacom are separately operating entities with the same parent company.

Dauman is contracted as president and CEO of Viacom until the end of 2018.

In November, he said investment in big data, new distribution approaches and content, and a focus on events will help Viacom “turn the corner” and deliver “a new period of prosperity and growth”.