Viacom-CBS: Separate Share Trading Starts Today

03 January 2006

Mammon called the tune - but will Wall Street hum it?

Following relentless Icahn-style investor pressure Viacom, America's leading multi-platform branded entertainment company, today (Tuesday) starts full trading on the NYSE as two discrete entities: Viacom Inc and CBS Corporation.

Analysts, media observers and rivals - especially number one media group Time Warner - view the move as litmus test for the future of vast media conglomerates.

Driven by investor frustration at the company's weak stock performance over the past few years Viacom chairman, founder and controlling shareholder, Sumner M Redstone finally heeded the gypsy's warning last June when he announced the group's bifurcation.

On Wall Street there is little certainty as to the likely outcome of Redstone's gamble and the shares of both newcomers will be watched hawk-like over the coming months. Stockholders received one-half share in each of the two new companies for every original Viacom share held.

Early indications are ambiguous, with preliminary activity on Friday (the last trading day) lifting the duo's aggregated share price by 25 cents to $32.60 - approximating the value averaged by old Viacom stock over the past two years.

Viacom Inc, headed by Tom Freston as president/ceo (he was former co-chief operating officer of the combined company), comprises a raft of cable channels including MTV and Nickelodeon, plus Paramount Pictures film studio.

Leading CBS Corporation is Leslie Moonves, also co-chief operating officer of the original Viacom. He is responsible for the group's less dynamic businesses including the CBS television network as well as radio and outdoor advertising assets.

Redstone, at 82 still a towering figure, continues to rule his roost as chairman of both new companies. At his side is daughter and heir presumptive Shari Redstone, serving as non-executive vice-chair of the two boards.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff