The $785 million hit is the short-term pain for what CEO Philippe Dauman says will be a long term gain: $350 million a year in cost savings, with $175 million in the fiscal year that ends in September. The new figure is up from last month when he told investors to expect net savings of $250 million a year.
About $355 million of the charge covers the widespread recent layoffs at MTV Networks which realigned to three operating units from four. (Viacom isn’t saying how many people were let go.) Most of the remaining $430 million covers “underperformming programming, including the abandonment of select acquired titles” as well as “a change in the Company’s ultimate revenue projections for certain original programming genres that have been impacted by changing media consumption habits.” Shows that fell short of execs’ hopes included CSI, Entourage, and Community.
With the combined writedowns plus $400 million committed to “strategic acquisitions,” Viacom will hit a pause button on its $20 billion stock repurchase program — which it expects to re-start by October. Company shares are down 1.8% in after-hours trading.
The revamp at MTV Networks “is largely completed, [and] will allow us to sharpen our focus on driving long-term growth in a rapidly changing industry,” Dauman says. “We will transition rapidly into the future, generate substantial cost savings and continue to increase our investment in original programming to bring our audiences great content in new and groundbreaking ways.”
As for the stock buybacks, Dauman says that he’s still “steadfastly committed to returning capital to shareholders” as well as “operating within Viacom’s target leverage ratio.”
Viacom shares have taken a beating as investors worried about declining ratings and ad sales at cable channels including Nickelodeon, MTV, BET, and Comedy Central. Some wonder whether a major pay TV distributor such as Dish Network might be tempted to drop the company’s channels, following the lead of some small cable companies led by Suddenlink. Viacom’s stock price is down 19% over the last 12 months, and 8.8% so far in 2015.
One of the company’s most vigorous critics, Bernstein Research’s Todd Juenger, said in January that “the future is more likely negative than positive.” Among his reasons: “Conventional TV audiences are getting worse, the ad demand environment doesn’t seem to be getting any better, domestic affiliate fees are already at the low-end of their ‘high-singles/low-doubles’ [digit percentage gain] guidance and there is real risk of future distribution losses.”
But Dauman says today that Viacom “has a powerful combination of world-class brands and popular content that is driving our business across the globe. We will continue to lead the way in connecting our vibrant brands to audiences through both traditional and innovative new platforms.”