×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Shari Redstone on CBS-Viacom Merger: ‘We Are Going to Be a Leader in Content’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Shari Redstone can’t wait to ring that bell.

After three years and three tries, Viacom and CBS Corp. have been reunited as one company, ViacomCBS, as of Wednesday. The closing of the deal reached on Aug. 13 is a testament to Redstone’s tenacity and determination to change the direction of her family’s empire as she saw the business landscape around CBS and Viacom changing dramatically in the past few years.

Although nobody wanted to see the CBS-Viacom merger come to fruition more than Redstone, she still can’t quite believe it’s done.

“It’s not going to be real until we’re trading tomorrow,” Redstone told Variety in an interview hours before the closing became official. Redstone, ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish and a host of other senior leaders will be on the NASDAQ trading floor in Manhattan on Thursday to ring the bell and launch the official trading of the new VIACA and VIAC shares.

ViacomCBS still faces plenty of skepticism in the marketplace about whether it has the size and scale to compete with behemoths such as Disney, Comcast, AT&T, Amazon, Apple and Netflix. Redstone points to ViacomCBS’ $13 billion (and counting) in annual content spending as something that cannot be dismissed as a small player.

“I think ViacomCBS is absolutely going to have the scale they need to succeed in the world,” Redstone said. “We’re taking a group of differentiated assets to really create a global content powerhouse. We not only have the ability to create a quantity of content, we have the brands to create content that people really want to watch.”

Redstone pointed to the success that Paramount Television has had in recent years with producing original series for the streaming giants that have disrupted traditional TV. Amazon’s “Jack Ryan” and Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why” are top hits that demonstrate the importance of having a wealth of IP and the know-how to produce.

Redstone believes that ViacomCBS has a bright future ahead, especially as its larger rivals focus on launching direct-to-consumer platforms that will require them to hold back a good portion of their movie and TV productions for in-house platforms. ViacomCBS is taking a different approach, balancing its investment in DTC operations such as CBS All Access and the ad-supported Pluto TV with a drive to produce high-end content for takers around the world. The archives of Viacom, Paramount Pictures and CBS together contain some 140,000 episodes of television and more than 3,600 film titles. That depth of IP can generate a lot of business when content with built-in brand recognition has launched a sea of reboots, remakes, sequels and prequels.

“Our ability to take our library around the world to all third-party platforms as the craving for content increases and other (companies) pull back their content — I’m really excited about this,” she said. “I really believe we have a differentiated strategy and we are going to be a leader in content.”

Reuniting CBS and Viacom will strengthen the assets of both companies in ways that weren’t as vital during the 2000-2005 period when they were previously brought together by Redstone’s media-mogul father, Sumner Redstone. During those years, however, CBS and Viacom operations largely stayed distinct, which had the effect of turning the company into a series of fiefdoms. That will not be the case this time around, Redstone promised.

“We missed this opportunity before,” Redstone said. “There is nothing more important that I am focused on than creating one company, with one vision and one strategy and one team.”

Bakish, who has been a senior executive at Viacom since 1997, reinforced that ViacomCBS has learned from the missteps of the past. The company moved quickly after the merger announcement to create central groups for content licensing, distribution and advertising sales that cut across all Viacom and CBS brands.

“That’s facilitating our plan to make us easier to do business with,” Bakish said. “That gives us a strong hand to play. When those companies were together in the past, we did not operate that way. We went into this saying ‘Let’s set ourselves up to do incredible things.”

Redstone said planning for the integration process began from the day the merger was announced in August. Leaders of divisions as disparate as CBS News and Nickelodeon have been meeting to brainstorm potential collaborations and cross-promotional efforts.

“I met with all the leaders over the first few weeks and asked them to think about who you might want to work with and what things you might be able to do when we’re one company,” she said. “The last few months we’ve made tremendous progress.”

Wall Street still needs some convincing. CBS and Viacom shares are down about 19% and 24%, respectively, since the Aug. 13 merger announcement. Redstone sees the decline as in part due to all the noise in the industry about the “streaming wars” as Disney, WarnerMedia and Comcast dive into substantial investments in DTC platforms. As ViacomCBS executes on its priorities, investors will respond, Redstone predicts.

“They need to see that we can fully integrate this company so that we are acting as one team,” Redstone said. “The market likes to put everyone in one bucket and make it all about the streaming wars and ‘how will you compete with Netflix and Amazon?’ and all that. We’re a new company with a differentiated strategy of maximizing the assets we have across all platforms — digital, linear, consumer products, real-world experiences. We have a different strategy than other companies and people need to see we can execute on this. We’ve done it before.”

Redstone’s enthusiasm is infectious (“Can you tell my passion for this deal?” she asks), and her achievements to date are undoubtedly impressive.

Starting in 2016, she remade the boards and senior management teams at Viacom and CBS as she became increasingly concerned about internal problems at the companies and external competitive threats. Redstone endured public battles with former Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman and former CBS chief Leslie Moonves that at times went deep into her family history, particularly her relationship with her legendary father.

Shari Redstone was thwarted twice before — in 2016 and 2018 — in her efforts to bring CBS and Viacom back together. As 2019 draws to a close, Redstone has solidified her position as one of the world’s most powerful media moguls, and the only woman at the top of an entertainment conglomerate of significant size.

At 96, Sumner Redstone is in failing health and struggles at times to communicate. But he is well aware of the goings on in the kingdom of content that he began building more than five decades ago.

“I spoke with him last week. Someone asked him ‘Are you proud of Shari?’ and I got the loudest ‘yes’ I’ve ever heard,” Redstone said.

More Biz

  • Ben Smith Buzzfeed

    Ben Smith Stepping Down as BuzzFeed News Editor-in-Chief to Join New York Times

    BuzzFeed News editor-in-chief Ben Smith is leaving the company to join The New York Times as its media columnist, stepping into the role once held by the late David Carr. Smith announced the news today to staff at BuzzFeed minutes before it broke publicly via NBC’s Dylan Byers. His last day will be in March, [...]

  • Investigators work the scene of a

    All Nine Bodies Recovered From Kobe Bryant Helicopter Crash Site

    The bodies of all nine passengers aboard the helicopter that crashed in Calabasas, Calif., on Sunday have been recovered, the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner said on Tuesday. The crash took the lives of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, along with the pilot and six others. Bryant was on his way to [...]

  • Univision logo

    Final Bids for Univision Communications Expected by Next Week

    The sale process around Univision Communications is set to accelerate as final bids for the Spanish-language broadcaster are believed to be due by the end of next week. Univision hung out the “for sale” sign last July, when the company hired Morgan Stanley, Moelis & Co. and LionTree to advise on a sale process that [...]

  • Kobe Bryant Dead

    Kobe Bryant's Best Days Were Still Ahead of Him (Column)

    I was strolling around my local flea market Sunday morning when I looked down at my phone and read the horrible news: “Kobe Bryant Dies in Helicopter Crash.” I let out an audible gasp. Of course, my utter shock instantly morphed into journalistic concerns over how we were going to cover this unfathomable news. I [...]

  • Harvey Weinstein trial Jan 28

    Harvey Weinstein Trial: Accuser's Ex-Roommate Says She Was Told About Alleged Rape in 2006

    Harvey Weinstein’s rape trial in New York continued Tuesday with the former roommate of one of the ex-movie mogul’s accusers corroborating details of Weinstein’s alleged 2006 sexual assault. Elizabeth Entin, who was Miriam Haley’s roommate at the time Haley alleged she was sexually assaulted by Weinstein, testified that Haley, a former assistant on “Project Runway,” [...]

  • Gloria Allred

    Gloria Allred Rips Apart Weinstein's Defense Team for 'Putting the Blame on Women'

    Shortly after Harvey Weinstein accuser Miriam Haley took the stand and testified that she was sexually assaulted by the fallen movie mogul over a decade ago, her attorney Gloria Allred ripped apart Weinstein’s defense team, speaking to press outside of the courthouse. During the six-hour testimony, Haley told the jury that Weinstein forcibly performed oral [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content