A Wall Street Journal report this afternoon confirmed a story late last week that the former corporate siblings were again exploring a merger. An hour before the close of trading today, Viacom shares are up 2% to $31.96, given the perceived benefits of tying a cable-bundle-dependent company to the No. 1 broadcaster.
The two companies merged in 1999 in a then-momentous transaction, before parting ways in 2006. They had previously explored coming together again before abandoning plans in 2016. Given the Disney-Fox deal, AT&T’s pending takeover of Time Warner and a host of others, the urgency is growing for next-tier players to gain scale.
Sources said CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonves had been deeply skeptical in 2016 about the value of the combining the broadcaster, which was thriving, with the struggling Viacom. And Viacom was optimistic about its prospects under the new leadership of Robert Bakish.
But the media landscape has shifted substantially since then.
“It’s ludicrous to thinking CBS and Viacom can be stand-alone companies,” said BTIG’s veteran media analyst Richard Greenfield. “It’s 18 months delayed for no reason other than Les Moonves’ obstinance. That’s what stopped this deal. In a world where Disney and Fox are merging, his obstinance no longer matters.:
What does matter, in the current climate, is scale. Content companies need a stronger balance sheet, in order to pursue sports, or need to amass a more content for an over-the-top service. CBS’s streaming service would be bolstered by Viacom’s wealth of children’s programming through Nickelodeon, Greenfield notes, not to mention Paramount’s film library.
According to the Journal, Shari Redstone is the chief proponent of the idea. She contacted CBS CEO Leslie Moonves, who previously had resisted the notion, to renew discussions about merging the broadcaster with Viacom.
The Redstone family controls CBS and Viacom through their holding company, National Amusements.