Dauman: Viacom won't sell Paramount
Says 'studio on sound strategic and financial path'NEW YORK -- Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman on Wednesday shot down suggestions that his company sell its Paramount Pictures film unit and signaled little hunger for a big film studio like Universal, should it become available.
"It's not one we want to sell" because it is a "very fast-growing business" with strong cash flows, he said about Paramount at the second annual Media and Money conference in New York, organized by Dow Jones and Hollywood Reporter parent the Nielsen Co. "Paramount has done great for us. Brad Grey has done a terrific job."
Dauman admitted that film is a "generally tough business," but he argued that Paramount's reducing its number of annual releases helps to further push the film unit along a "sound strategic and financial path."
Speaking about possible acquisitions, Dauman reiterated his view that the days of big deal are over for Viacom.
Asked if he would pass up Universal if it came up for sale, he said: "We look at things. ... But we have no plan to make any significant acquisition."
Dauman also floated the idea of a potential kids version of the successful video game "Rock Band" and gave more color about special features that the premium TV service Viacom, Lionsgate and MGM are working on could offer.
The service has struggled to win distribution deals from cable, satellite TV or telecom companies. But, Dauman said, "we are deeply engaged in distribution discussions" that are "very detailed" already as the service prepares for an October 2009 launch.
"We have added new features that distributors have requested," he said. Among key value propositions that are planned, the service will make all films available in HD and have a "more robust" VOD component and interactive elements. Plus, all movies will be available on the first day of the pay window, Dauman said. He also mentioned broadband and potentially mobile applications.
Viacom's recent acquisition of ScreenLife, which makes the Scene It movie trivia game on DVD, will play a role here. He didn't provide details, but audiences could play the game on their TV screens or computers, observers said.
Dauman once again lauded his chairman and controlling shareholder Sumner Redstone.
Asked how he has managed to maintain a good relationship with the media pioneer for more than 20 years, Dauman said the two have a "very easy exchange of views." He added, "He is one of the smartest, most engaging men I've ever met -- anyone has met." Dauman also called Redstone a "winner," adding: "He's always come out ahead. I admire his tenacity."
Asked what his boss told him Friday when Redstone's National Amusements announced that it would sell some Viacom and CBS Corp. shares to reduce its debt load, Dauman said, "It wasn't one of his happiest days." But he added that Redstone is "very pragmatic" and told him "we'll live to see another day."
Asked about recent ratings softness at cable networks BET and MTV, the Viacom CEO was optimistic that his company's creative talents will fix that. "I'm sure they'll recover as we go into 2009," he said.