Titled “Is CBS Becoming Less Uninvestable?” a blog post by Nathanson assessed the impact of a potential Moonves departure. That scenario that came into sharp focus after the New Yorker published a damning article in late July detailing allegations of the executive’s sexual misconduct.
On the one hand, Nathanson said, his exit means the “current uncertainty is lifted” and CBS and Viacom won’t be forced to merge in the near term. Moonves and the CBS board have staunchly resisted the move, challenging controlling shareholder National Amusements in court over the matter. Most Wall Streeters see little upside in the combination, which National Amusements head Shari Redstone has nonetheless been keen to make happen. Nathanson argues that a CBS-Viacom reunion (the companies were together from 2000 to 2006) would not generate nearly the financial value of a more organic deal.
As to the nature of the allegations against Moonves and his capacity to lead, Nathanson stipulates that he is “in no position to judge the accuracy of the charges.” Even so, he writes, “we do know that he is an essential part of CBS. The traditional media industry remains a relationship business based on trust and history. The CBS connection to production talent, sports league officials and affiliate owners is an essential part of the job. It may be impossible to detect the downside of Les’ absence, but there will be a point in the next few years that his presence will be missed.”
Before the storm blew up in 2018, Nathanson notes that MoffettNathanson had long taken a negative view of the stock. At issue with CBS, it felt, was its exposure to the weakening syndication TV market and what Nathanson called “the sustainability of core broadcast ad revenues.”
Because of the constraints on CBS given its ownership structure, he predicted, “the shares will trade below a fairer valuation because we see no evidence that potentially new CBS management will be empowered to act independently to sell this company to the highest external bidder.” Shares will stay “range-bound,” he added, “as the market expects a new board and new CEO to ultimately bend to the will of National Amusement and combine Viacom and CBS.”
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