Viacom's film and cable networks businesses trended ahead of the year-ago period through the first three quarters, but the company had to reduce its cable networks guidance a couple of times, which raised eyebrows on Wall Street. Investors repeatedly put Viacom management, led by CEO Philippe Dauman, on the defensive for this and other issues in 2008, and some of those major questions will carry over into 2009.

Among them are whether Viacom's investments in the development of new TV shows are paying off with improved ratings and ad sales, and whether a premium TV cable venture with MGM and Lionsgate will gain traction — and carriage by major MSOs, satcasters and telcos.

Pali Research analyst Richard Greenfield is among those who think chairman and primary shareholder Sumner Redstone should sell Viacom because of its attractive assets — or at the least part with Paramount Pictures.

Redstone's debt issues also have been an overhang in recent months, but Redstone has promised he won't sell any more Viacom stock.

Given specific challenges and broader market turmoil, Viacom shares have tumbled 58% in 2008 to $18.56 as of Monday.

But like corporate sibling CBS Corp., Viacom is getting leaner during the downturn: The company recently handed out 850 pink slips.