Eye on the future

Redstone makes things competitive

Sumner Redstone says sister companies CBS and Viacom will be allowed to compete, even though he controls them both.

“Both companies will have the right to compete with each other, and that’s good. Competition breeds success,” Redstone said at CBS’ annual shareholder meeting in Gotham on Thursday.

“We should expect to have some competition, especially when you have a strong competitor like Les,” he added, referring to CBS chief exec Leslie Moonves. Redstone, who spoke in response to a question, wasn’t specific, but Wall Street and Hollywood continued to wonder if Moonves and Viacom chief Tom Freston will eventually butt heads.

CBS owns the CBS network and stations, TV production and syndication, Showtime, CSTV, radio, outdoor advertising and Simon & Schuster. Viacom owns MTV Networks and Paramount.

CBS hiked its dividend payout Thursday by 2¢ to 18¢ a share — the second boost since January, when CBS became a standalone company.

Annual meeting was its first going solo.

The dividend boost reflects “our confidence in what we are about and where we are headed, and how committed we are to returning value to you,” Moonves said.

He outlined an impressive string of strategic moves so far this year: CBS merged UPN with the WB network to create the new CW net; hired Katie Couric to anchor the nightly news; divested its theme parks for $1.24 billion; bought cable and Web college sports powerhouse CSTV; inked a retransmission deal with Verizon where it will be paid in cash; identified 35-40 radio station to sell; and launched online channel Innertube.

Moonves expects big things with Couric behind the anchor desk. He said CBS was the only network news to gain viewers this season. For one week earlier this month, CBS passed ABC for the first time in five years.

Outside the annual meeting in midtown Manhattan, some CBS News employees protested being kept without a contract for over a year. Writers Guild of America East handed out leaflets reading “Don’t let CBS kill quality news” and slamming the net for cutbacks.

Moonves said CBS is pushing into new media, “testing price points” and enjoying the not-insignificant incremental revenue it’s starting to throw off. March Madness online, for instance, brought in $4 million. “This is content that’s already been paid and produced,” he noted.

CBS execs said that as of Thursday morning, the settlement agreement in the lawsuit between CBS and shock jock Howard Stern had not been signed.

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