All this has happened before, and all this will happen again.
I know, wrong property, but it’s hard to keep that maxim from my mind amid reports that Viacom and CBS are potentially considering a merger. Certainly, there is no better turn of phrase to sum up the history between the two companies. Viacom was first created in the fifties as a division of CBS before spinning off in the seventies. The two eventually merged in 1999 before splitting once again in 2005. And now, the dance begins anew. Though in point of fact, this isn’t even the first time the prospect of a “re-merger” has been raised. As recently as the fall of 2016, the possibility was raised before ultimately being aborted.
If all of that seems at once dizzying and pointless to you, you’re not alone. It essentially seems to boil down to Sumner Redstone and his daughter Shari (respectively the Chairman/CEO, and President of National Amusements, which has had controlling interests in Viacom since 1986 and CBS since the 1999 merger) looking to shuffle their deck, so to speak. Though none of the companies involved has commented publicly, the 2005 split has been attributed to a desire to boost stock prices. Likewise, the current merger talks are presumably motivated by the same logic as the abortive 2016 attempt, which saw Shari Redstone send a letter to the executives involved that essentially argued that a single unified company could more effectively respond to a twenty-first century marketplace than two.
Redstone’s rationale thus calls to mind that which drove Fox to sell many of their film and television assets to Disney, essentially that a smaller, more focused company would also be a more nimble company. Speaking of that other media merger, my natural impulse with this sort of news is to wonder about the potential for further media consolidation – the placement of more microphones in fewer hands, so to speak. While that’s a definite concern with regard to Disney and Fox, it is arguably far less so with CBS and Viacom. That owes largely to the often entwined history of the two companies, as well as to the fact that the ownership of the companies (if not the companies themselves) has already been consolidated for roughly the last two decades.
No time frame has been specified for the proposed merger. Longtime CBS head Les Moonves has been cited as a likely candidate to head the reunified company, should the merger go through.
Be sure to check back with ScienceFiction.com for more on the proposed Viacom/CBS merger as it becomes available.