Sumner Redstone Fetes 88th Birthday Early With Bullish CBS Gathering


NEW YORK - A day before turning 88, CBS Corp. and Viacom controlling shareholder and chairman Sumner Redstone spoke at the annual shareholder meeting of CBS here Thursday, and he sounded like he was in a party mood.

The typically bullish Redstone acknowledged at the brief 40-minute meeting, which featured questions from only two shareholders, that he always enjoys touting the strength of CBS. But he said "that is particularly the case this year."

Redstone pointed to a "terrific" start to 2011 and a strong 2010 before telling shareholders: "I have the utmost confidence that CBS is poised to reach even greater heights."

Redstone's birthday wasn't mentioned at the meeting.

CBS president and CEO Leslie Moonves coincidentally was asked though how the CBS network, which just won the total viewer ratings race for the eighth time in nine years, feels about different age groups, emphasizing that it welcomes people across all ages.

Asked during Thursday's question-and-answer session if CBS has managed to convince advertisers to not only value the 18-49 demographic, Moonves reiterated that his team has long held that young viewers should not be the only measure of success. "I don't think there is anyone in 18-49 who watches 60 Minutes," he quipped, but the show continues to perform well and earn the network respect across the industry, he mentioned as an example.  "We welcome everyone" - whether they are eight or 80, he emphasized.

Moonves on Thursday cited a range of  facts that added to the meeting's upbeat tone and lent it the feel of an early birthday celebration of sorts for Redstone.

Among them was the continuing rise of CBS shares, which recently hit a 3 1/2 year high. "The stock market has recognized our accomplishments," Moonves said, pointing out that the stock is up 90 percent from where it traded at the time of last year's annual meeting.

Among Moonves' other bullish comments, he said that all the company's businesses are "firing on all cylinders," that
strong financial momentum will continue through 2011 and 2012, and that "we are returning more and more value to our shareholders," such as via a recently doubled dividend.

Asked about CBS and Redstone's other company, Viacom, during the Q&A, Moonves highlighted that both  are doing really well. Redstone in response said that the reasons for that are Moonves, whom he went on to call "a genius" for the second time, and Viacom president and CEO Philippe Dauman. Redstone had earlier introduced Moonves as "my friend and colleague" and "a man I frequently call a genius, but he is one."

Moonves thanked Redstone for the kind words and later also thanked him for his "unwavering support" for the company.

Besides approving all board nominees, CBS shareholders on Thursday also approved a proposal to introduce advisory votes on the company's executive compensation and decided to hold them every three years. After regulation requiring the launch of such non-binding votes, many major entertainment companies have this annual meeting season passed similar proposals. Typically, the decision has been to hold votes every year or every three years.

Moonves on Thursday once again signaled that CBS doesn't plan to sell its outdoor business after a big player expressed some interest.

Among the various CBS board members in attendance at the meeting were vice chair and Redstone daughter Shari, music veteran Doug Morris, who will take over Sony Music Entertainment as of July 1, and producer Leonard Goldberg.

Moonves drew laughs when a shareholder asked if Goldberg has more CBS projects cooking after this season's successful launch of Blue Bloods. "Unfortunately" he has a new show on ABC this fall, "which we're going to try to hurt," Moonves quipped.

Moonves also earned laughs when a shareholder mentioned that if CBS shares continue to do well, the CBS CEO could overtake Dauman as the highest-paid CEO in the country. Moonves, who ranked third on a recent Wall Street Journal list of best-paid CEOs, responded with a simple "thank you."
 

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com

Twitter: @georgszalai

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