Viacom CEO Pushes Back On Speculation On Sumner Redstone’s Health

Philippe Dauman Viacom Earnings
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Viacom chief executive Philippe Dauman pushed back on recent coverage of company executive chairman Sumner Redstone’s health, telling attendees at an investor conference Monday that the mogul has “an incredible will to live and enjoyment of life,” despite dealing with some physical disabilities.

Dauman made his remarks as investor speculation has bubbled around the company in recent days, due largely in part to a lawsuit filed by the media mogul’s former girlfriend Manuela Herzer alleging Redstone is in fragile health and mental condition. Redstone controls 80% of National Amusements, a privately-held movie-exhibition company that in turns controls majority stakes in both Viacom and CBS Corp.  Press reports around the legal case have spurred inquiries from investors like Mario Gabelli, who is a large owner of Viacom voting stock.

Redstone, said Dauman, “is fully in charge of his own healthcare today,” and a transition plan that has been agreed to that would create a new trust around his stakes in National Amusements remain. “Nothing has changed” regarding any transition plans, said Dauman. “No one individual will control the trust, which will operate by majority vote,” he said.

The chief executive took some time to chide those who had portrayed Redstone as weak or bumbling in recent reports. “What has been said is disturbing,” said Dauman of reports about Redstone’s mental state and his dealings with women said to be living in his residence. He asked journalists to “look at themselves in the mirror and think about, when you are talking about a human being, whether they are acting or speaking or writing with a sense of humanity or decency.”

Dauman then steered his remarks, made during an investor conference held by UBS, to Viacom’s plans for its networks. The executive said MTV, which recently saw a transition in top executives was “looking to step up the music side, looking to step up the unscripited” in terms of programming. Dauman praised the performance of Trevor Noah, who took over “The Daily Show” from Jon Stewart in September, and said Comedy Central, the network that features that program, could prove instrumental in fueling the creation of content aimed for younger viewers who gain access to video via smartphones and tablets.

Dauman said Viacom’s Paramount movie studio could improve performance with films like “The Big Short” and more in the works from its series of “Star Trek” films. “Paramount will get back to where it should be,” Dauman said.