Viacom’s shareholders meeting has global look

Confab relocates to London

LONDON — Sumner Redstone breezed into London on Wednesday for Viacom’s annual shareholders meeting, relocated to the U.K. in recognition of the growing importance of the international market.

The meeting, a rubber-stamp affair free of dissent and without a single question posed by those shareholders in attendance, was in sharp contrast to the media giant’s traditionally dynamic U.S. stockholder meetings.

The Viacom chairman and chief exec said the change of venue was more than symbolic.

“We wanted to emphasize the importance of our international operations,” Redstone told Daily Variety. “Our overseas business is explosive.”

Redstone predicted that Viacom’s international sales before long would outstrip sales in the U.S. market. He said this sea change may come as soon as “five or six years’ time.”

Wooing investment

Another reason for coming to London, Viacom’s international headquarters, was to drum up support for company stock through meetings with British investment houses.

Investor Cazenove has produced an upbeat document forecasting 14% growth in operating cash flow for 1999 and 17% in 2000. Cazenove said “the company is well-positioned to benefit from the strong growth of cable advertising as well as the worldwide proliferation of multichannel television.”

The key to that growth, Redstone added, is the continued regionalization of Viacom’s international businesses, a strategy spearheaded in recent years by MTV Europe.

Redstone admitted that building the international business is “not that easy to do” but that “there is nobody else whose software assets are as well-deployed all over the world.”

Redstone also invoked his trademark reference to the international market as representing “96% of the world’s eyeballs,” whereas the U.S., however profitable, is only 4%.