This follow up piece seems like a recurring dream, something you remember doing and then find yourself doing again, the CBS-Viacom merger talks are back in full swing. The earlier work on this site about the merger focused on a variety of angles: the business implications of the deal, the consumer impact of the deal, the changes in the media industry, the inner workings of the CBS feud with National Amusements, the power struggle at the top of the company, and finally the potential for CBS to be purchased by a tech company.
This piece will look at the current situation as well as why some of those other aspects did not ultimately come to fruition. The power struggle and the resistance of CBS from being merged with Viacom has shifted since Les Moonves was dismissed as CEO last Fall after sexual misconduct allegations mounted against him.
The business landscape has changed as well with Disney obtaining the 21st Century Fox subsidiary units and movie studio, and AT&T merging with Time Warner to create Warner Media. These maneuvers have certainly put some pressure on Shari Redstone and National Amusements to determine how CBS is going to stay competitive in an ever-changing media dynamic.
Furthermore, the situation at CBS has changed since the talks began a few years ago, where the network side of the business was home to huge ratings hit shows. The viewership has moved away from network broadcast programs to the streaming and premium cable channels. This has seen series from Netflix, Amazon, and other streaming providers take ratings share away from the “Big Four”.
In addition, the hit series from HBO such as “Game of Thrones”, Epix, Starz, Showtime, and other premium networks all have produced original content that have siphoned viewership away from the networks, and with that goes a portion of the advertising revenue.
It is not like CBS does not have series programs that capture viewers. However if you look at the ratings for the 2018-19 television season, CBS series have performed at a downward trend. The following data supports that and is most definitely driving CBS and Viacom back to the negotiating table:
“Big Bang Theory” 18 to 49-year-old demographic down 17% year-over-year and down 8.2% of viewers overall.
“Young Sheldon” 18 to 49-year-old demographic down 21.7% year-over-year and down 11.3% of viewers overall.
“NCIS” 18 to 49-year-old demographic down 11.1% year over-year and down 6.6% overall viewers.
“Mom” 18 to 49 -year-old demographic down 15.2% year-over-year and down 7.7% of overall viewers.
That is alarming when the top four shows on the network are down in the coveted 18 to 49 and overall metrics. The network has other shows in the top ten shows of their lineup including “NCIS : Los Angeles” and “Man With A Plan” that are also down significantly in both categories.
The other issue is that aside from “Big Bang Theory”, which is in its final season, all of the other series mentioned have been renewed for next season. The network introduced just eight new series this TV season so far, and most of those concepts are cancelled already. The reality is that CBS has had a great run at the top of the ratings book for a while, but they need fresh new concepts. The whole lineup needs to be revamped.
The business is changing and they have to adapt with that in order to stay relevant. The network has also been struck with a stretch of bad luck. The Super Bowl this past February was the lowest scoring championship game in history, and viewers checked out of it, so ratings were down for the biggest television event of the year.
The network also has the rights to the NCAA men’s basketball championship and those ratings were down because the two teams in the championship (Virginia and Texas Tech) were not a ratings draw for the average viewer.
The internal politics of the dynamics there, which has been covered previously on this site, adds another layer of turmoil. The parent company of both CBS and Viacom is National Amusements International (NAI). The dismissal of Moonves means that CBS needs to appoint a new CEO, these new negotiations over the Viacom merger will hold up that process.
The speculation is that the merged CBS and Viacom would most likely be run by Bob Bakish, who currently runs Viacom because he has a close relationship with Shari Redstone who runs NAI in place of her father who is ill and not in the picture. The combined company would either continue to grow using the content and synergies between the two entertainment entities, or they could fetch interest by a larger investor who could buy the whole combined company.
In prior coverage of this topic, CBS was reluctant to merge with Viacom because they were hopeful that a larger “new media” company would purchase them from NAI. They even had a window negotiated to get that type of deal done. In my view, I had speculated that CBS would be purchased by Verizon to propel their expansion into the content that every media company is looking to capture.
There were others who speculated that Amazon would purchase CBS because of their existing business relationship/partnership for streaming of certain content on Amazon Prime Video. That also did not materialize. The fact is that the “new media” or tech companies are focusing on developing their own content and they are not interested in purchasing the assets of another company.
It is similar to football and getting a quarterback, most teams do not want to acquire another team’s guy that has already been in another system, the team would rather draft their own guy and build them up from the foundation according to the principles and techniques that they coach as an organization. The tech companies do not want someone else’s productions, they want to build up their own productions.
It is in this light that the jump-started negotiations between CBS and Viacom should be viewed. The reality is that CBS would have been purchased already if a potential buyer was interested. The combined unit would bolster the content holdings of the company as a single entity with much more cable television content from BET, MTV, CMT, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, among others.
The reality is that while this merger might not be the ideal one for either side because of all of the history and the bad blood between the two companies (made complicated by the fact that they are both underneath the same parent company in NAI) it is the only deal on the table right now. Both entities are heading toward a scenario where they will not survive as separate units.
The impact for the consumer if the two companies should merge could go either way because CBS/Viacom could potentially negotiate better deals with advertisers and for cable rights carriage fees which could lower the cost of some cable or satellite packages.
However, it could go the opposite direction and the combined entity could decide to park streaming content into CBS All Access, which is a subscription based streaming application and they could hike up the membership fee. The combined CBS/Viacom could also create their own apps for each network or put them all on a combined stand-alone streaming application for the Viacom properties and then charge a membership fee for that content.
In the end, the next few weeks to the next couple of months could yield some big news in the media industry. The board members opposed to this deal have been removed, these negotiations seemed poised for a completed merger between two companies with a deep history of resentment. The dust will settle and then we will know whether this combined company will help or hinder the average viewer. We will also know whether this merger will have limited or significant impact on the industry overall.
Stats, some background information courtesy of Fox News, TV Series Finale.com, Nielsen)