Philippe Dauman: Viacom Looks to Sell Stake in Paramount to ‘Strategic Minority Investor’

Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman said the company will soon begin talks to sell a minority stake in Paramount Pictures to a “strategic” partner.

Dauman announced the move Tuesday during his appearance at the Jefferies Media and Communications investor conference in New York. The Viacom chief said the company has been approached by several suitors for the studio and that Viacom has retained PJT Partners as its investment adviser, with the goal of concluding a deal by the end of June. He stressed that Viacom would still remain in control of the studio, which Viacom acquired after a fierce battle in 1994.

Dauman’s announcement comes after prominent Viacom investors including Mario Gabelli called on the CEO to consider such a move, along with other steps to improve Viacom’s long-term fortunes. Paramount was recently valued at about $4 billion in an analysis of Viacom’s assets by MoffettNathanson.

“We have been approached by several potential strategic investors in Paramount,” Dauman said during the Q&A. He said the goal was to bring in a minority investor who would offer “great benefit strategically and financially to both Paramount and Viacom.” He said he would soon begin “substantive discussions with a select group of potential strategic partners for Paramount.”

Dauman said the goal was to enhance Paramount’s operations by bringing in not just cash from an investor but a strategic partner that could help grow the studio. He did not name names, but the emphasis on growth indicates that Dauman is considering reported overtures from Chinese investors including Jack Ma’s Alibaba Group. He said discussions on a minority equity sale would be complicated because they would also involve a “commercial relationship.”

Dauman said proceeds from the sale of a Paramount stake would go to paying down debt and also be reinvested in growing the studio, which is revving up its TV production operations again after a long dormant period.

Bringing in a minority partner “opens up a lot of strategic relationships,” Dauman said. “We’ve gotten a glimpse of what some of that could be (and) we would like to be able to pursue some of those discussions to bring not just financial benefit but strategic benefit to help drive the growth of Paramount going forward.”

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