CBS, Viacom Shares Spike on Report of Merger Talks in June

CBS and Viacom shares shot up at the start of trading Thursday following a CNBC report that the companies are expected to begin long-awaited merger talks by the middle of next month.

CNBC’s David Faber cited sources indicating that talks to recombine the two halves of the Redstone family’s media empire will begin in mid-June. CNBC also reported that Viacom president-CEO Bob Bakish is expected to run the combined entity.

CBS and Viacom shares were both up in the 3%-5% range in the first hour of trading, another sign that investors have been expecting movement on a combination.

The reunion of the companies that were brought together in 2000 and split up again in 2006 has been expected for more than three years. Controlling shareholder Shari Redstone has advocated for the consolidation to help both companies better compete against its larger media rivals and tech giants.

The prospect of CBS and Viacom reuniting sparked a bloody corporate legal battle last year between CBS, then lead by Leslie Moonves, and Redstone for control of CBS. But Moonves was ousted last fall amid the revelation of disturbing sexual misconduct allegations. The litigation was settled and CBS’ board of directors was overhauled with members who are expected to be more open to a Viacom acquisition than the previous regime.

The question of post-merger leadership of the enlarged company had also been a source of friction that is now eased by the fact that Moonves it out of the picture. Bakish has headed Viacom since late 2016. CBS at present is led by president and acting CEO Joe Ianniello, who was formerly COO under Moonves. CBS called off its search for a new CEO last month, which was widely read as a sign that Viacom merger talks were on the near-term horizon.

Reps for CBS, Viacom and Redstone’s National Amusements declined to comment.

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