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Media mogul Sumner Redstone clarified in an interview with the Wall Street Journal published today that his succession plans are as murky as ever.
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While some of his own executives at Viacom and CBS — as well as outside media analysts and observers — have surmised that 58-year-old Viacom chief executive Philippe Dauman is the heir apparent, the 89-year-old Redstone told the Journal that his daughter Shari Redstone, 58, is still in contention.
“It hasn’t been decided yet who will be my successor. And Philippe knows it,” Redstone said. “He knows that Shari might be my successor and it’s not a competitive race between them. We have to see what happens.”
Redstone himself had fanned the speculation about Dauman in a September 22 New York Times interview in which he said, “I can’t say what will happen after I’m gone — which will be never. But everyone understands, I think, that Philippe will be my successor.”
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That riled some at CBS, who regard chief executive Leslie Moonves, 63, as the far superior executive and dismiss the notion that their boss would ever report to Dauman. (“The day Les will report to Philippe is the 12th of never,” one told The Hollywood Reporter.)
On October 15, CBS announced that Moonves had extended his contract through 2017, even though his previous deal didn’t expire until 2015. The deal includes provisions that Moonves will report only to his board after Redstone’s death and allows him to leave with a big check should anyone interfere with that board.
In the Journal interview, Redstone said succession will depend “on my view of the talents of each person and also their relationship to my family. My family will ultimately inherit the business.”
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As reported in THR, a trust will control Redstone’s shares in CBS and Viacom following his demise but it is unclear who will control that trust. Sources say it includes Dauman and Shari Redstone, who has sometimes clashed with her father and who is not believed to be aligned with Dauman. (Moonves will not be part of the trust.)
“Philippe understands that my family is important and it could be Shari. I don’t say it will be. It could be either one or both,” Redstone said in the interview. He also expressed confidence that Dauman can address ratings erosion at Nickelodeon.
Top executives at CBS and Viacom are scheduled to gather this evening at the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles gala at the Beverly Hilton Hotel — an event honoring Redstone.
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