Does Viacom have an “overpaid and lackey board” with an “absent” chairman who allowed CEO Philippe Dauman to perform with “no accountability” fostering a “creatively bankrupt culture” while being “asleep at the switch in the digital shift”?
Those are among the charges that asset manager Eric Jackson made today in a 99-page report calling for a company overhaul. The cage rattling helped to lift Viacom’s stock price by about 5% in mid-day trading — even though there’s zero chance that the arguments will appeal to Executive Chairman Sumner Redstone, who controls 80% of the voting shares.
The Managing Director of SpringOwl Asset Management specifically wants Redstone, 92, to step down while Viacom installs a new board and management. Once that’s done, Jackson wants the company to see whether Alibaba Pictures or Amazon might invest in Paramount, look at merging with AMC Networks, slash costs, and develop direct-to-consumer streaming services.
In response, Viacom says that its “board and management team are completely focused on delivering long-term value to shareholders.” They are “encouraged by the growth in our strong international business, the ratings upswings at most of our networks, Paramount’s strong start in 2016, our leadership position in advertising technology and other positive recent developments.”
Jackson told CNBC that he understands Redstone runs the show, and can tell other shareholders to “pound sand.” What’s more, Viacom’s share price — which fell about 39% over the last 12 months — is so low that it’s “a great buy” even if Dauman stays, “which we hope he does not do.”
Most of Jackson’s charges echo criticisms others have made against Viacom — including some by its No. 2 shareholder, Gabelli Asset Management’s Mario Gabelli.
Jackson is especially outraged by the role that Inside Edition host Deborah Norville plays on the board. She’s classified as an “independent” director even though her show is produced by CBS, which Redstone also controls.
Her ties, as well as those of other “independent” directors, help to explain why Viacom awards “astonishing CEO pay for under performance.” Dauman made $243 million in the five years ending in 2014 while Viacom stock appreciated 3%.
The document blames the CEO for ratings declines at The Daily Show after Trevor Noah replaced Jon Stewart, the departure of key execs including former MTV Networks head July McGrath and Viacom Media President Van Toffler, and overpayment for stock buybacks.
SpringOwl’s blast at Viacom is much like one it levied at Yahoo in December.