ViacomCBS shares were up more than 5% in trading Friday, reflecting renewed investor interest in the company following the death earlier this week of chairman emeritus Sumner Redstone.
The movement for ViacomCBS shares came on a down day overall for the NASDAQ index. News of the Redstone’s death on Aug. 11 at the age of 97 has sparked speculation that his successor, ViacomCBS chairman Shari Redstone, may now be more inclined to sell the media conglomerate that her father built starting in the late 1980s.
ViacomCBS was up 3% at the close of trading Friday to $27.46. The stock fell below $12 at the start of the pandemic lockdown in mid-March but has been above $20 since late May.
For the year to date, ViacomCBS shares are down 35%, in keeping with massive declines for most media stocks amid pandemic-driven business disruptions. The report that surfaced on Thursday about ViacomCBS striking a bundling deal with Apple TV Plus for its CBS All Access and Showtime streaming services is also seen as a driver of Friday’s stock movement.
The larger question hanging over ViacomCBS is whether Sumner Redstone’s death will change the trajectory of the company. Shari Redstone moved several years ago to take the helm of the Redstone family empire, culminating with the re-merger of Viacom and CBS Corp. into a single entity that was completed last December.
Since then, ViacomCBS shares have flagged amid investors concerns about its long-term prospects. Once one of the largest U.S. media congloms, ViacomCBS has a much smaller balance sheet than Disney, Comcast and AT&T, all of which have grown through M&A in recent years.
Sumner Redstone was understood to be vehemently opposed to selling off all or part of his holdings. But the elder Redstone has not called the shots at ViacomCBS for some time. Sources close to the situation say that Shari Redstone is focused on reinvigorating the recombined company — Viacom and CBS Corp. were brought together in 2000 but split up again in 2006 — and boosting its valuation.
At present, ViacomCBS’ market cap of $17 billion is a little more than half of the company’s value at the time the re-merger agreement was first struck in August 2019. The pandemic-depressed stock price could potentially bring out unsolicited acquisition offers. Talk of a bundling deal with Apple TV Plus is sure to spur renewed speculation about ViacomCBS’ attractiveness to the new breed of content-hungry tech giants who have barreled into the video arena, including Apple and Amazon.
(Pictured: Shari Redstone)