Preston gave a lengthy interview Wednesday to CNBC in which he didn’t hold back on his assessment of the state of the company he helped build during his more than 25 years at MTV Networks.
“There’s been a series of pretty serious errors” at the company, Freston said Wednesday during an appearance on CNBC’s “Fast Money.”
Freston was unceremoniously fired by Viacom controlling shareholder Sumner Redstone in 2006 and replaced by Dauman, a lawyer and longtime lieutenant of Redstone. But for the past five weeks Redstone have engaged in a public battle for control of the company.
The fight went nuclear on Wednesday when Redstone issued a statement directly stating that he “no longer trusts” Dauman and the Viacom board members who support. The statement is the strongest evidence to date that Redstone is preparing to oust Dauman as CEO.
The corporate drama involving Sumner Redstone and his daughter Shari and their battle against Dauman and the board has been an extraordinary sideshow that has weighed heavily on morale at Viacom. That appeared to be Freston’s motivation for going public with unvarnished criticism of Dauman and the decisions, such as its protracted legal fight against YouTube, which ended in 2014 settlement after seven years with no damages paid to Viacom.
“I don’t think he’s been the optimal leader for the company,” Freston said. “The right guy for a job like that in a company that’s steeped in the popular culture with young audiences, the person who owns that chair should be somebody who is turned on, attracted to and somewhat knowledgeable about the popular culture and what’s going on there.”
When pressed by the host if he agreed with criticisms that Dauman was “arrogant” and “elitist,” Freston said “yes.” And he added that the exec “has a reputation of not being a great listener.”
Freston emphasized that he had no designs on replacing Dauman as CEO.
“I’ve moved on in my life,” he told CNBC. “It’s hard to go back again despite the affection I have for the place.” He said the company needed a leader with passion for content and the creative process.
In a statement, Viacom defended Dauman’s track record since he took the reins from Freston in September 2006.
“Viacom is significantly bigger, more global and generates far more profits today than when Philippe Dauman’s predecessor left office in 2006,” Viacom said. “Philippe has doubled the amount of investment in creative programming over his tenure to more than $6 billion annually, and has grown Viacom to be the number one family of cable networks and the number one destination on all of television for reaching younger audiences. Philippe has overseen substantial and consistent growth in the company’s international business, which is now on track to generate $1 billion in revenues by 2020. Viacom is making more global hits than ever before, exemplified by recent successes such as ‘Lip Sync Battle’ now airing in 96 countries. Philippe has also brought in new creative leadership to reposition key networks, which is now driving ratings turnarounds, and has overseen an overhaul of the company’s advertising sales engine to deliver innovative data-driven products. The company has generated billions of dollars in new distribution revenues from emerging digital platforms while at the same time more than doubling affiliate revenues since 2006.”