Dauman backs Jon Stewart over CNBC

Says 'Daily Show' host said what others were thinking

NEW YORK -- Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman defended Jon Stewart and showed appreciation for the host of his Comedy Central's "Daily Show" here Wednesday.

"Jon Stewart is a great person, and I know him well," he said in a keynote appearance at the 2009 Media Summit New York, organized by the McGraw-Hill Cos. and produced by Digital Hollywood.

Asked about the recent controversy surrounding CNBC star Jim Cramer's appearance on "The Daily Show," Dauman said it was because Stewart said what many people were thinking. "He has a connection with the zeitgeist, which makes him so successful," Dauman said. "He did a great job as usual, and we are happy to have him in family."

Earlier in the day, NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker at the Media Summit said that Stewart had been "completely out of line."

Dauman on Wednesday faced the question of succession in case chairman Sumner Redstone ever can't fulfill his job, saying that "when the very distant day comes," the Viacom board will choose a successor.

Asked about the Tom Cruise-Redstone spat, Dauman lauded the actor for his recent role in Paramount film "Tropic Thunder." "Tom Cruise is a great actor," and his career is "on a very strong trajectory again," he said.

Given the current recession, "we have to be much more selective in the greenlighting process" for movies, and pay for stars must increasingly be based on success, Dauman said in discussing the sustainability of Hollywood star salaries.

Dauman also discussed his son Philippe Jr.'s work in content acquisition at Google. "He loves it there," he said, adding that his job interview happened on the day Viacom sent a massive content takedown notice to Google.

"I give Google a lot of credit" for hiring him based on merit, Dauman told the Media Summit audience. He recounted how the hiring decision was run up all the way to Google CEO Eric Schmidt, whom he thanked later for hiring based on credit.

Asked about this year's upfront advertising market, Dauman said Viacom is already cutting attractive kids upfront deals. Ad rates are still strong in scatter, and while online ad prices have weakened in many areas, Viacom is "holding up well" for its sites, he said.

Asked about plans mentioned by the likes of Walt Disney to launch online subscription content services, Dauman said he expects Viacom to get some of its revenue from subscriptions in the coming years, citing premium content, download-to-own, gaming and merchandising offers as possibilities.

Regarding online services that Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable are looking at that would ensure that only multichannel TV subscribers can watch TV content online, Dauman said Viacom is "very open to working with distributors" and is actually helping them with content authentication. "We want to make sure that it's a good consumer experience," he added.

Dauman added that Viacom's digital business continues to grow, but he declined to specify its size, arguing that it is hard to do so given many integrated ad packages.

Asked about his perfect 1,600 SAT score and whether he and Redstone had every compared SAT scores, Dauman responded with a rare joke: "I don't think they had SATS (when Sumner was in school)."