CBS And Viacom Prepare To Meet The Street, But No Major Merger News Expected

By Dade Hayes, Dominic Patten


Viacom and CBS — aka the Richard Burton and Liz Taylor of the media business — are working their way back to the altar again, and by all accounts discussions are progressing constructively.

Nevertheless, the widely floated scenario of the companies announcing a reunion on Thursday, the same day as their quarterly earnings reports, is not happening, insiders tell Deadline.

“It’s hard to say when exactly it may come to fruition, but it won’t be” Thursday, in the words of one person close to the discussions.

Instead, the companies will proceed with Plan A. Viacom will release quarterly earnings before the opening of trading, following the numbers with a conference call with analysts. CBS will do likewise after the closing bell Thursday. As has happened periodically in recent years during periods of active merger discussions, it is distinctly possible that the topic of the merger will be taken off the table at the start of each call. Or, as has also happened before, the companies could pre-select analysts whom they know will not ask for a merger status report, a question that would not be answered anyway.

CBS and Viacom were under the same corporate umbrella from 2000 to 2006. Both continue to be under the aegis of controlling shareholder National Amusements, the company founded by Sumner Redstone, 96, who is now chairman emeritus. His daughter, Shari Redstone, now leads National Amusements and has long been a proponent of recombining the two firms, a move welcomed by Wall Street.

The exchange ratio — exactly how many shares of each company will change hands — is one key feature being worked out, as well as the management structure. Both of those deal points proved the undoing of two prior formal rounds of merger talks, each of which sputtered before a deal could be announced. The latter edition of the talks, in early 2018, deteriorated to the point that CBS and controlling shareholder National Amusements filed lawsuits against each other.

At the end of last week, word surfaced of a management scheme that has taken shape though not finalized. Under that setup, Viacom CEO Bob Bakish would take the reins of the combined entity, with acting CBS CEO Joe Ianniello retaining a senior role in the structure and CBS CFO Christina Spade keeping the same title at the new company.

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