Conglom adds two new board members and re-elects incumbents
Even as questions about the company’s future swirl around Wall Street and Hollywood, Viacom brass at the company’s annual meeting on Thursday touted the conglom’s stock perf last year, which delivered an average increase of 11% in shareholder returns. Shareholders were in no mood to revolt, re-electing all 11 incumbent members of the board.
Immediately following the meeting, Viacom appointed two additional board members, Cristiana Falcone Sorrell, a senior adviser to the chairman of the World Economic Forum, and “Inside Edition” anchor Deborah Norville.
The meeting, held on the Paramount lot, included remarks from Viacom exec VP, general counsel and secretary Michael Fricklas; president and CEO Philippe Dauman and executive chairman Sumner Redstone. The 89-year-old Redstone remained silent after making brief opening remarks welcoming the crowd, while Dauman’s investor presentation made up the bulk of the 30-minute meeting.
Dauman reinforced the strategy for the struggling Nickelodeon channel, whose poor ratings have hampered revenue at the parent company. Dauman said ratings were up 11% in February and 21% in March among kids 2-11, and Nickelodeon’s focus remains on strengthening the pre-school audience and weekend afternoon block through additional content, especially in animation. This year, Nickelodeon will debut at least 10 shows, with a strategy of focusing on the first generation of post-millennials.
Holders of Viacom’s 50.4 million outstanding shares of class A stock were eligible to vote on Thursday, and 98.4% of them turned up to do so. In addition to affirming the conglom’s board until next year’s meeting, shareholders also elected to ratify Pricewaterhouse Cooper as the company’s accounting firm.
Part of Viacom’s returns to shareholders come from its aggressive stock repurchases. The company has repurchased $2.8 billion in stock in 2012, and is on track to repurchase $700 million of stock this quarter, according to Dauman. Owners of class B stock enjoyed a 42% return in 2012, which Dauman touted as higher than the industry standard.
Dauman also touted the strength of cablers BET and Spike TV on Thursday. He touted BET’s plans to capitalize on its BET Awards in June, when the network will host a three-day consumer experience filled with shopping, concerts and other events over the awards weekend in Los Angeles.
Spike’s acquisition of mixed martial arts promoter Bellator in 2011 has allowed the channel to build its pay-per-view business, its Thursday night programming block and its international potential.
Dauman hailed another network kudofest, this year’s MTV Movie Awards, which he praised as an opportunity for the major studios to “maximize marketing impact” before the busy summer release schedule.
On the film side, Dauman said Paramount continues to focus on a “balanced film slate” with big-name blockbusters and smaller films with significant upside. The studio’s animation division — which competed with DreamWorks Animation until the latter found a new home with 20th Century Fox last year — will drive Paramount’s consumer products business with at least one film per year.
“We will also release the highly anticipated sequel — at least by me — to ‘Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy’ ” in December, Dauman said. (Pictured above)
Those remarks come after poor results on the film side for quarter ended Dec. 31, when Par’s film revenue sunk 37% to $975 million. The studio posted a loss of $139-million compared with a $31-million loss in the same prior-year period.
Thursday’s meeting included two video presentations, played at ear-shattering volume, of clips from its television and film content. It also showed a video to promote its “Viacommunity” activities, which sponsors outreach activities including two voter initiatives for last year’s presidential election.
Viacom’s net income rose 9% last year to $2.35 billion, while revenue dropped 7% to $13.89 billion, in part due to declines in advertising revenue. Operating income rose 1% to $3.9 billion.
Viacom’ shares were down 1% at the close of trading Thursday to $61.23.