Inside Move: Sumner’s split personality

Decision nearing for Viacom

NEW YORK — Sumner Redstone said Thursday that Viacom’s board will finish analyzing a proposed split-up of the conglom and issue a “definite decision” in June.

“This is a complicated process that takes time to fully analyze,” the chairman-CEO told shareholders at the annual meeting in Gotham. “All we said is that we were considering it. We did not say we were doing it,” he added.

Viacom’s board discussed the split at a meeting before the shareholder confab, which featured scattered griping over the stock price and lofty executive pay.

A constant thread was the contentious contract negotiations between CBS News and the Writers Guild. WGA East scribes picketed outside the hotel, wearing masks of Leslie Moonves. Inside, others lobbed questions at top execs. The newsies’ contract expired April 1.

Redstone tussled with a few shareholders over whether or not the company performed well last year. The financials were solid — excluding an $18 billion writedown for the radio and outdoor biz.

“The company has not had a bad year,” Redstone said sharply. “We are as frustrated as you by the disconnect between the operating performance and the stock price.” He urged one stockholder to come back next year — promising the shares would be higher.

Co-chief operating officers Moonves and Tom Freston, who will become chief executives of a divided Viacom, joined Redstone on the podium.

Moonves was triumphant over CBS’ stellar season, which he sees translating into dollar signs in the upfront. “There are hundreds of millions of dollars up for grabs from NBC, and we have the opportunity to grab the lion’s share,” he said.

Freston stressed a reinvigorated Paramount’s focus on cultivating and signing talent deals and on skewing the studio younger. He sees significant revenue gains from DVD, which Par hasn’t milked as aggressively as others.