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ViacomCBS was created at the end of 2019 by the re-merger of two companies which have had a long shared history as on-off stablemates. The latest merger took place two decades after the businesses first joined forces under the Viacom banner, and 13 years after they were split apart again when Viacom spun off a collection of its broadcast and radio assets into separate company CBS Corporation. Following that move, the slimmed down Viacom was concentrated around the group's cable networks, led by pioneering music broadcaster MTV, supported by Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and others. Pluto TV is its US-based free streaming TV service, offering selected content from its various channels as well as third-party and original programming. That new Viacom also kept control of movie studio Paramount and its busy home entertainment division, and operates a Paramount-branded movie channel in several international cable markets. In 2014, Viacom became the first US broadcaster to own a UK terrestrial broadcaster following a deal to acquire Channel 5, and later purchased Argentina's free-to-air Telefe channel. Two years later Viacom became embroiled in an undignified series of court cases as various parties within the inner circle of elderly owner Sumner Redstone battled for control of his media empire. Those battles were eventually won by his daughter Shari Redstone, who became the de facto controlling party behind both Viacom and CBS via holding company National Amusements. Philippe Dauman was ousted as CEO and replaced by Robert Bakish. However another series of battles followed when she attempted to broker a re-merger with CBS to reinvigorate flagging performance at Viacom. Those negotiations were forcefully resisted by CBS, but a truce was eventually agreed in 2018 whereby the two companies would continue to operate separately, for the time being at least. Re-merger talks restarted in summer 2019, and the deal was completed in December the same year. Viacom's name comes first, and its CEO Bob Bakish retains that role in the combined company, but CBS investors got the largest share of equity, with 61% of shares. Viacom's revenues for the ye Sept 2019 were $12.8bn, with net earnings of $1.5bn.

Capsule checked 5th December 2019

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Adbrands Daily Update 5th Mar 2020: The global book business is about to get even smaller. ViacomCBS announced plans to sell its publishing division Simon & Schuster - the global #4 in books - to focus operations more directly on screen-based entertainment. Deal price could be as much as $1.2bn. The book division has long been one of the less likely sidelines of the on-off Viacom/CBS conglomerate. It was acquired by Viacom in 1994 as part of Paramount Pictures - it had been seen as a feeder for potential movie scripts - and was spun off into CBS Corporation in that 2006 separation, then brought back into the fold late last year. ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish told investors he had received "multiple unsolicted inbound calls" regarding a sale. Bidders are likely to include News Corporation's HarperCollins and Lagardere's Hachette, respectively the world's #2 and #3 book publishers behind Random House Penguin.

Adbrands Daily Update 5th Dec 2019: Viacom and CBS completed their long-anticipated re-merger to create a stronger competitor to bulked up media titans like Disney, Comcast, AT&T and Netflix. Aged and bed-ridden tycoon Sumner Redstone is still nominally the controlling shareholder, but all management decisions are now overseen by his sometimes-estranged daughter Shari Redstone, vice chair of the merger company. "My father once said, 'Content is king,' and never has that been more true than today," she said in a statement. "Through CBS and Viacom's shared passion for premium content and innovation, we will establish a world-class, multiplatform media organization that is well positioned for growth in a rapidly transforming industry." As has long been the case in the troubled Redstone family, there are dissenting voices. Sumner Redstone's granddaughter, Keryn Redstone - Shari's niece - issued a statement opposing the merger. "In 2006, when my grandfather separated CBS and Viacom, he did so intending for these companies always to remain separate," she said. "The direction in which both companies have gone in the absence of my grandfather's leadership is contrary to that which he had envisioned for success."

Adbrands Daily Update 14th Nov 2019: Viacom posted flat performance in what is expected to be its final set of financial results before re-merger with CBS, expected imminently. Revenues slipped slightly to $12.8bn, and net earnings were down 10% to $1.5bn. The group's media networks business continues to face challenges, with revenues slipping slightly to $9.9bn, and operating income down 6%. However the Paramount filmed entertainment division reported its first (modest) profit for three years, despite a series of lacklustre releases. Revenues edged up 1% to almost $3.1bn. The strongest income stream came from licensing revenues.

Adbrands Daily Update 14th Aug 2019: CBS and Viacom agreed to re-combine in order to compete more effectively in the greatly changed media market. The merger will re-unite two organisations that have enjoyed or endured an on-off partnership for almost 50 years, ever since the original CBS split off its cable networks in 1971 to create Viacom. Sumner Redstone joined them back together again in 2000, then split them apart once more in 2006. Under the new arrangement, CBS will acquire its smaller sibling for around $11.8bn in stock. The combined group - to be titled ViacomCBS - will be America's second largest broadcaster by primetime viewers, mainly because of the strength of its main CBS TV network, and its valuation of $30bn leapfrogs its closest rival Fox Corp (currently worth around $22bn). Yet it is dwarfed by rivals AT&T, Disney, Comcast or Netflix, each worth between four and eight times as much. As a result, further acquisitions are likely, as ViacomCBS attempts to bulk up its industry profile. As previously announced, Viacom's Bob Bakish becomes group CEO, while Joe Ianniello is chairman & CEO of CBS. Shari Redstone is group chairman.

Adbrands Daily Update 7th Aug 2019: As talks of a re-merger with CBS continue, Viacom has continued to flesh out its own portfolio with acquisitions. It announced the purchase of Paws Inc, the company which controls cartoon character Garfield, for an undisclosed sum. Nickelodeon will develop a new TV series based on the comic strip cat created by Jim Davis and will control global rights to consumer products and "location-based experiences" based around Garfield and his owner. They join a valuable collection of other characters assets in the Nickelodeon portfolio including SpongeBob Square Pants, Dora The Explorer and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Nickelodeon is already one of the top 10 global licensors with licensed product sales of around $5.5bn annually.

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