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Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman: Paramount Sale Moving Forward

An ongoing legal battle has slowed down, but not killed Viacom Chairman and CEO Philippe Dauman’s plans to sell a minority stake in Paramount.

Dauman told the Wall Street-heavy crowd at Thursday’s Gabelli & Company media and entertainment conference that he is continuing to proceed “deliberately, thoughtfully, and thoroughly with our board” as he tries to find someone to buy 49% of the studio behind the “Transformers” and “Mission: Impossible” franchises.

The sale of Paramount has reportedly put Dauman at odds with his boss and one-time mentor, Sumner Redstone, Viacom’s controlling shareholder. Redstone is said to oppose bringing in a financial partner on the studio, and the aging moguls support or opposition to the Paramount sale has factored heavily in a fierce legal battle over the future of Viacom.

Initially, Dauman expected a deal for Paramount to close by the end of June. That will no longer happen, he said, because attorneys for Sumner Redstone have moved to block the sale.

“Recent events have slowed down the process,” he said.

Dauman tried to play down any animosity with the 93-year-old Redstone. Calling Redstone, “my great friend for over 30 years,” Dauman noted that he had helped the media mogul acquire the studio in 1994.

“We were side by side in every major transaction that has occurred,” said Dauman.

The Paramount auction began with over 40 players, Dauman said, but the field has narrowed more recently. A successful bidder will be a ” major, global, strategic” partner, Dauman promised. He predicted a deal could add $10 a share in value to Viacom, which could be used to pay down debt.

The Viacom chief acknowledged that being embroiled in a legal fight has been draining, but he tried to project an image of calm and control. There was no signal that he was even flirting with abandoning his perch atop the media company he has guided since 2006.

“It’s a lot more fun being involved in creating the content than being the content,” he joked, adding, “we continue to be very focused on the business.”

The media executive has been in an awkward position. As Sumner Redstone’s health has failed, Dauman’s disagreements and squabbles with his boss’ daughter, Shari Redstone, have played out in public. Shari Redstone opposed Dauman’s elevation to the chairmanship of Viacom in February, and their fight for control of the company behind MTV, Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon, and Comedy Central, has grown more pitched in recent months.

It’s a war that is mostly playing out in courtrooms and in the headlines, with shots being fired via dueling press releases and legal filings. At a time when entertainment companies have become more buttoned down and corporatized, the media has feasted on the Shakespearean elements of the Viacom saga.

In the latest wrinkle, Dauman and George Abrams are challenging their removal from the Redstone family trust and the board of National Amusements, the movie theater company that controls Viacom and CBS. They contend that Sumner Redstone is not mentally competent to oust them from the trust and was manipulated into doing so by his daughter, Shari Redstone. Earlier this week, attorneys for Dauman and Abrams asked the court to approve the immediate medical evaluation of Sumner Redstone, implying he was near death.

At the same time, Dauman has been criticized for his stewardship of Viacom. The company’s cable channels have suffered ratings declines and Paramount’s market share has dropped as it scaled back its number of film releases and endured a number of bombs. Viacom’s share price has dropped in recent months, but despite the company’s challenges, Dauman’s compensation package in 2015 hit $54.1 million, putting him on the high end of media chiefs.

Paramount has had a rough year, fielding flops such as “Zoolander 2” and “Whisky Tango Foxtrot.” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows,” its expensive sequel, sputtered at the domestic box office.

Dauman predicted that the studio will bounce back. He said he expects that Paramount will reach its target of releasing 15 films annually, and noted that there will be a new “Transformers” film release for the next three years.

“We have been working to ensure that Paramount going forward will have a vibrant pipeline,” said Dauman.

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