CBS, Viacom reunite with plans for bigger role in streaming TV wars

In this file photo taken on August 6, 2018, the CBS logo is seen at the CBS Building, headquarters of the CBS Corporation, in New York City. (AFP)
Updated 14 August 2019

CBS, Viacom reunite with plans for bigger role in streaming TV wars

  • Viacom Chief Executive Bob Bakish will be the president and CEO of the combined company

NEW YORK: CBS Corp. and Viacom Inc. have reached a deal to reunite media mogul Sumner Redstone’s US entertainment empire, betting that a larger company will be able to compete and partner better in a media industry dominated by giants.
The new company will be named ViacomCBS Inc, although CBS shareholders will own 61% and Viacom shareholders will own 39%.
The merger will combine the CBS television network, CBS News, Showtime cable networks with MTV Networks, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and the Paramount movie studios. Together, they will own more than 140,000 TV episodes and 3,600 film titles. Annually, it is estimated to generate about $28 billion in revenue.
It creates a company with roughly a $30 billion market value, which is still small compared with rivals including Netflix Inc, at $136 billion, ABC network owner Walt Disney Co, at $245 billion, and NBC owner Comcast Corp. at $193 billion.
The merging companies are controlled by National Amusements Inc, the holding company owned by billionaire Sumner Redstone and his daughter, Shari.
“My father once said ‘content is king,’ and never has that been more true than today,” Shari Redstone said in a statement.
The third attempt at a merger since 2016 is a decisive win for Shari Redstone, whose father built the companies through a series of mergers and then broke them apart 13 years ago.
Previous merger talks had failed because of clashes between executives over divvying up top jobs and the companies’ relative valuation.
The recombination comes amid an increasingly competitive media landscape dominated by Disney and Netflix, prompting Redstone to pursue a merger.
Viacom Chief Executive Bob Bakish will be the president and CEO of the combined company. Joe Ianniello, interim CEO of CBS, will be named chairman and CEO of CBS, which will exclude the Showtime cable network and book publisher Simon & Schuster.
Ianniello will report to Bakish. Bakish cannot fire Ianniello unless the ViacomCBS board approves.
Bakish in an interview said that he will compete with Netflix, Disney and AT&T for subscribers and also create and sell TV shows and movies to other companies, an operation that will grow thanks to the new deal.
“This is not a put-your-eggs-in-one-basket story,” Bakish said. “They all work together.”
ViacomCBS can lure customers with free offerings from a service like PlutoTV, which it bought in January, then convince them to pay for a subscription service in another part of the empire like CBS All Access, Bakish said.

SLIGHT PREMIUM
Viacom shareholders will receive 0.59625 CBS shares for each share they own, representing a slight premium to Viacom’s closing price on Monday.
The companies said they expected about $500 million in annual cost savings.
The new board of directors will consist of 13 members. Six will come from independent members from CBS, four independent members from Viacom, Bakish, and two National Amusements members. Shari Redstone will be appointed the chairman.
Shares of Viacom rose 2.4% to $29.21 and shares of CBS rose 1.4% to $48.70 after the merger was announced.
Centerview Partners LLC and Lazard Frères & Co. served as financial advisers to the CBS board’s special committee. Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP served as the special committee’s legal counsel.
LionTree Advisers LLC and Morgan Stanley & Co. served as financial advisers and Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP as legal counsel to the special committee to the Viacom board.
Viacom was advised by Shearman & Sterling LLP. National Amusements was advised by Evercore as its financial adviser and by Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP as its legal counsel.


Is Trump’s love affair with Fox News fading?

Updated 19 August 2019

Is Trump’s love affair with Fox News fading?

  • Trump appears to be tilting his media gaze toward a more right-wing rival, cable outfit OANN
  • Since March Trump has tweeted links to OANN stories or shared his appreciation of the network 13 times

WASHINGTON: Last month after Donald Trump watched Fox News lob what he called “softball questions” at a Democratic lawmaker, the US president delivered a crisp smackdown of his favorite network: “Fox sure ain’t what it used to be.”
After years of often fawning coverage by Fox, particularly from its pro-Trump anchors like Sean Hannity, the commander in chief appears to be tilting his media gaze toward a younger, more right-wing rival, cable outfit One America News Network (OANN).
The small upstart broadcaster was launched only recently, in 2013, by technology millionaire Robert Herring, who sought a more conservative alternative to mainstream media behemoths like CNN.
Today it seeks to outfox Fox by drawing extra attention from Trump, who has been voicing his displeasure with the ratings leader over everything from presidential polling to its hosting of Democratic candidate town halls.
Last week in a tweet to his 63 million followers, the president managed to disparage Fox and his mainstream news foil CNN, while heaping praise on the new object of his media affection.
“Watching Fake News CNN is better than watching Shepard Smith, the lowest rated show on @FoxNews. Actually, whenever possible, I turn to @OANN!” Trump posted.
Since March he has tweeted links to OANN stories or shared his appreciation of the network 13 times.
The relationship has been years in the making. In 2015 Trump was interviewed by Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee in 2008, when she guest-hosted OANN’s show “On Point.”
At his first press conference as president-elect, in January 2017, Trump took a question from an OANN reporter. OANN was then called on dozens of times at the daily briefings in Trump’s first 100 days in office.
During his June 2018 press conference in Singapore, following the summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, Trump took a question from OANN White House correspondent Emerald Robinson, but not before gushing about her network.
“Thank you for the nice way you treat us. We appreciate it,” he said. “Really, it’s very good. It’s really beautiful what you do.”
The San Diego-based operation describes itself as “straight news, no opinion.” But the pro-Trump agenda is crystal clear, more than a dozen current and former employees told The Washington Post in 2017.
Herring himself, in his pinned tweet, describes OANN as “the president’s favorite new outlet.”
When Fox cut away from broadcasting a Trump rally in New Hampshire on Thursday, Herring tweeted, “We will never cut away!“

Purveyor of conspiracy theories
OANN has faced accusations of promoting conspiracy theories and peddling Kremlin propaganda.
“Yeah, we like Russia here,” a staffer assigned to brief new OANN producer Ernest Champell told him, according to The Daily Beast. Champell left, disillusioned, four months later.
“The network has a history of race-baiting and presenting anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-abortion reporting,” according to Media Matters, a progressive nonprofit group that says its mission is “analyzing and correcting conservative misinformation.”
While OANN’s influence in the White House may far outweigh its position in the news media landscape, Trump clearly retains an affinity for several people in the Fox organization.
The show “Fox & Friends” remains his go-to morning program; Trump has phoned in on numerous occasions as president.
Perhaps that is why Democratic longshot contender Julian Castro purchased ad time during “Fox & Friends” this week, airing a spot in which he directly addresses Trump and blames him for inspiring the El Paso shooter who massacred 22 people early this month.

Trump jealous
Sean Hannity, the network’s popular anchor, appeared alongside Trump at a campaign rally ahead of the 2018 mid-terms.
But friction emerged this week when Hannity expressed support for CNN anchor Chris Cuomo after a video of Cuomo in a heated argument at a New York bar went viral.
It was a sharp contrast to Trump, who tweeted that Cuomo — the brother of New York’s Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo — was “nuts” and showed a “total loss of control” in the incident.
The president expressed frustration when Fox aired multiple town halls in recent months featuring Democrats who are trying to unseat him in 2020, including South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, currently fifth in major polling.
“Hard to believe that @FoxNews is wasting airtime on Mayor Pete,” Trump tweeted in May. “Fox is moving more and more to the losing (wrong) side in covering the Dems.”
Fox News presidential polling is also a concern for Trump, whose job approval rating in the network’s mid-August poll dipped substantially, to 43 percent, while his disapproval rating spiked to 56 percent, its highest since October 2017.
In head-to-head matchups, the poll shows Trump losing to major Democratic candidates, including to frontrunner Joe Biden by 12 percentage points and to liberal Bernie Sanders by nine.
Fox polls “have always been terrible to me,” he tweeted in late July.