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Freston wades into Viacom boardroom drama

Former Viacom CEO Tom Freston has attacked Philippe Dauman, claiming his successor is the wrong person to turn the media giant’ fortunes around.

Speaking on CNBC yesterday, Freston said Viacom should be run by a person that’s steeped in the popular culture with young audiences, the person who owns that chair should be somebody who is turned on, attracted to and somewhat knowledgeable about the popular culture and what’s going on there”. He agreed with the notion Dauman was an “arrogant elitist”.

Regarding the current stalemate between Viacom owner Sumner Redstone’s camp and Dauman’s board of Viacom directors, Freston said it “would be in the best interests of everybody… to have this over”.

“When the Redstones don’t want you, when Wall Street doesn’t seem to want you, and when — from what you can hear — there’s not a huge amount of support for him in the company, you have to wonder: What’s the game he’s playing? What’s the point?,” Freston added.

The ex-Viacom chief, who Redstone axed in 2006 over a failure to buy MySpace, was scathing over Dauman’s running of Viacom, which has seen its share price nose dive in recent years.

He placed focus on the ill-judged US$1 billion lawsuit the company took out on YouTube over copyright infringement, which was ultimately settled out of court with no money changing hands, saying: “Litigation became a key tool.”

This meant Viacom was unable to go with the tide of millennials moving to digital platforms such as YouTube and ultimately moved “from the centre of pop culture to the sidelines”.

He also noted no-one on Dauman’s board had a digital background, and that the company needed a “change in administration”.

Viacom responded with a statement published on US trade websites saying the company was “significantly bigger, more global and generate[d] far more profits today than when Philippe Dauman’s predecessor left in 2006”.

The company said more money was spent on programming and that Viacom was now the number one family of cable networks and the number one television destination for young audiences. It also said the company was on track to deliver US$1 billion in international revenues in 2020, pointing to its Lip Sync Battle format as evidence of creative success.

“Philippe has also brought in new creative leadership to reposition key networks, which is now driving ratings turnarounds, and has overseen an overhaul of the company’s advertising sales engine to deliver innovative data-driven products,” Viacom’s statement continued.

“The company has generated billions of dollars in new distribution revenues from emerging digital platforms while at the same time more than doubling affiliate revenues since 2006.”