NBC News: CBS Back in Talks to Acquire Viacom

Now here’s a story that rears its ugly head time and again, and I guess this is one of the “agains”.

A piece from NBC news - citing “sources” - claims that CBS is in talks once again to merge with Viacom. From the piece: “CBS board members have initiated a fresh set of internal conversations about making an offer to acquire cable channel operator Viacom, according to two people familiar with the talks.” The move was apparently prompted by CBS calling off the search for a permanent CEO to replace acting CEO Joseph Ianniello, who was installed shortly after former CEO Les Moonves left last year amid scandal.

A little history here, for context: CBS used to be part of Viacom, until the two split in early 2006. Viacom retained ownership of Paramount Pictures, while CBS retained ownership of Paramount Television, which resulted in the well-known Star Trek split: CBS produces Star Trek television, while Paramount Pictures produces Star Trek films.

Star Trek fans have been clamoring for years to get CBS and Viacom back together, believing that it could reunite the film and television parts of the franchise...and give us back a unified IP. That would give us films that tie into the Star Trek TV series, like they did in the 80s and 90s, rather than standing alone, as they do now. But so far the two have been unable to reach an agreement.

According to NBC: “The talks have involved adjusting a set of valuation numbers that were agreed on by the boards of CBS and Viacom back in early 2018 when they last discussed a merger. Those talks broke down after the former chief executive of CBS, Leslie Moonves, moved to sue its majority shareholder in an effort to block plans to merge the company with Viacom. Moonves later left the company amid allegations of sexual harassment, though he denied the claims.”

Things are looking up again for a deal however, as NBC says: “A merger with Viacom is described as “the number one priority for several CBS board members,” including the majority shareholder, Shari Redstone, according to a source close to the conversations.” The idea would appear to be backed up this week by the fact that CBS reached a deal with Nickelodeon, who are owned by Viacom, to broadcast a new kids-oriented Star Trek animated series.

Now, I should note that we’ve seen optimistic reports like this before. And of course we can’t forget that as part of the drama that unfolded when Les Moonves left CBS last year, National Amusements, which owns controlling shares of both CBS and Viacom, agreed not to propose a merger between the two companies for at least two years.

Long story short, this is one bit of corporate intrigue worth following, as its conclusion could have a material impact on the future of the Star Trek IP.

Alison Pitt