Viacom shares inspire Gabelli

Media stock maven says his company now owns 9.7% of media giant's 69.5 million outstanding shares

NEW YORK — Media stock maven Mario Gabelli apparently believes that Viacom Inc.’s shares are on the way up.

On Wednesday, Gabelli Funds told the Securities & Exchange Commission that it now owns 6.7 million shares, or 9.7%, of the media giant’s 69.5 million outstanding shares.

According to documents filed with the SEC, the investment funds controlled by Gabelli began accumulating Viacom stock at $31.65 a share on Nov. 12 and continued to buy as the price rose to $37.67 on Dec. 22. Viacom’s shares closed up 44¢ at $38.38 on Wednesday.

Gabelli could not be reached for comment, but the Rye, N.Y.-based money manager is considered one of Wall Street’s most influential investors in media and entertainment companies. His stake in Viacom could help attract other institutional investors to the stock.

Gabelli and others on the Street have been viewing Viacom shares in a more favorable light following the company’s recent presentation at the annual PaineWebber media conference.

During his remarks to investors, Viacom vice chairman Tom Dooley hinted that Viacom may sell off its publishing operations (Daily Variety, Dec. 15). Wall Street is also hoping that Viacom will spin off its troubled Blockbuster Video unit during 1998.

On Dec. 22, Salomon Smith Barney upgraded its rating on Viacom stock.

Also helping to buoy Wall Street’s optimism about Viacom is the strong box office performance of James Cameron’s “Titanic,” which the company’s Paramount unit is distributing in North America. Twentieth Century Fox has the overseas rights to the pic, which stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslett.

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