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National Amusements, through which Sumner Redstone controls Viacom and CBS Corp., has started talking to candidates that could replace several Viacom board members in a step that could eventually lead to the ouster of chairman and CEO Philippe Dauman, the New York Times reported.
Former Sony Entertainment and Sony Corp. of America president Nicole Seligman, who stepped down from those roles earlier this year, Huffington Post co-founder and BuzzFeed chairman Kenneth Lerer, Judith McHale, the former Discovery Communications CEO and general counsel for MTV Networks in the 1980s, and Thomas May, the chairman of Eversource Energy, are being considered for Viacom board posts, the report said citing sources who didn’t want to be named.
Daughter Shari Redstone has been taking the lead in reaching out to possible new board members, the report said. It wasn’t immediately clear how far the talks with the possible new board members have gone and which current directors they would replace. The Times also said the choices and the strategy could change, while the Wall Street Journal described the discussions with candidates as preliminary.
The news comes as Viacom chairman emeritus Redstone and his daughter, who is vice chair, have been in a showdown with Dauman and the rest of the board. The Redstones would have a majority on the board if they replaced four members aligned with Dauman with people loyal to them.
Viacom board members on Memorial Day had sent a letter vowing to fight any attempts to oust them amid first reports before the holiday weekend that the Redstones were planning such a move. Frederic Salerno, lead independent director of Viacom, and his fellow board members said in a letter at the time that Redstone did not appear to be acting on his own “free will” and could be under the influence of daughter Shari. They also portrayed the 11-member board as defenders of mom-and-pop shareholders. Co-signers of the letter includes Viacom board members Deborah Norville, Charles Phillips, William Schwartz, Blythe McGarvie and Cristiana Falcone Sorrell.
A revamped Viacom board could possibly serve only a short term before National Amusements pushes for a recombination of Viacom and CBS under one scenario that has been discussed, the Times also quoted two sources as saying. Some investment bankers and analysts have speculated about such a possible deal, with one analyst recently renewing his call for bringing the two companies back together. Viacom and CBS became separate companies in 2006.
Representatives for Viacom and the Redstones declined to comment, the Times said.
Redstone via National Amusements controls about 80 percent of Viacom and CBS. That control will pass to a trust after the mogul dies or is declared incompetent. The battle for Viacom started on May 20 when Redstone replaced longtime allies Dauman and George Abrams from the trust and the board of National Amusements. They filed suit and challenged Redstone’s mental competency.
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