The CBS and Viacom saga continues to loom within the media landscape following the sexual misconduct allegations against former CBS Chief Executive, Les Moonves, which led to him being removed from that post recently. This has caused many within the financial sector to have renewed speculation regarding the potential for a CBS merger deal with Viacom to get back on track.
In a follow up to earlier pieces on this topic, the interplay between CBS, Viacom, and their common parent company, National Amusements (NAI) has been a mess over the past couple of years. The struggle between Moonves and Shari Redstone from NAI and the discord that conflict created within the CBS board has shaped most of the news around this merger over the past several months.
The removal of Mr. Moonves from the equation seems to indicate that the merger will take place at some point between CBS and Viacom. This can be simply because no other external entity has indicated any type of interest level in obtaining CBS at this point.
The potential merger of these once-joined media conglomerates (CBS and Viacom were once under the same roof until they split apart several years ago) would make sense from a financial perspective as Wall Street analysts have stated that the merged CBS-Viacom unit would have a better valuation. Some analysts have estimated that the total valuation would increase in value between 20-30% compared to the two remaining single entities.
While that valuation impact is significant, the most critical issue facing CBS at this point is to find a new CEO. The reports have been centered around the likelihood that this candidate will be hired externally to bring a fresh perspective to the network and the corporation.
In my prior work on this topic, the dynamics between Ms. Redstone, Mr. Moonves, and Viacom head Bob Bakish were explored. The interpersonal issues between all of these figures has been at the center of the saga between CBS, Viacom, and NAI. The reports from multiple media outlets are that the new external CEO of CBS will be the individual in charge of the combined CBS – Viacom and not Mr. Bakish.
This added responsibility increases the importance for CBS to find the right candidate on what is probably a very short list of people who have the requisite skills and background to run such a complex, diversified combined media corporation.
The terms of the settlement in court between NAI and CBS stipulate that NAI cannot initiate any offers to consolidate CBS and Viacom for a period of two years. However, the settlement does not preclude either CBS approaching Viacom or vice versa, with a potential merger bid.
The likelihood of that happening after a new chief executive is named at CBS is seen as highly possible. In my prior work within this merger proposal saga, I have always maintained that Verizon would be the “dark horse” that would come out of the woodwork and purchase CBS for some inconceivable amount of money.
The media landscape has evolved though, and my view is starting to shift in thinking that Verizon may not be interested in CBS at all. They may not be interested in the capital outlay and the organizational changes that would need to take place in order to integrate CBS into the Verizon umbrella.
The other major networks and “old media” companies are out of the mix for CBS for mostly anti-trust reasons. Some have rumored that maybe CBS – Viacom combine and then merge again with a major studio such as Lions Gate or another television outlet such as AMC. In my view, that could happen because both CBS and an outlet like AMC would have to grow larger or else be swallowed up by another conglomerate.
The rumor that a “new media” entity such as Amazon, Apple, Netflix, or Google could snap up CBS seems unlikely at this point too. That sort of consolidation is delivered at a significant cost because of the complexity of the merger, the legal proceedings involved, and the integration of the key business units within CBS into an existing corporate and operational structure.
The content that CBS controls is a tremendous asset, and at the end of the day, content is king. The CBS app called All Access is a subscription-based service that has a robust base of viewers. It will be interesting to see if those variables are a motivating factor toward a “new media” entity taking a shot at consolidating CBS, especially if they would also hold the rights to the Viacom content.
The major shifts in the media industry this year have created a climate where CBS and Viacom both must make some sort of strategic growth move in order to stay relevant. It may become a merger of necessity rather than joining together willingly and with enthusiasm. The combined entity of CBS-Viacom would have certain strengths that would help them compete in an increasingly competitive and margin conscious industry.
The content and streaming app as well as other business units could position CBS – Viacom to better meet the demands of viewers that are changing the way they access media, television, and movies. The timing will all be predicated on how long it takes for CBS to complete their search for a new CEO.
The changes in the media and television industry has already seen some incredible M&A activity during 2018. The future for both CBS and Viacom could highlight the industry merger news in the new year ahead.
(Some background information courtesy of CNBC and AP)