Redstone: Par poised for recovery

Touts awards, upcoming movies, Grey's leadership

Viacom boss Sumner Redstone says Viacom subsidiary Paramount Pictures, coming off a disappointing and money-losing year, is in the midst of a "major turnaround" and will "rise again" this year to again become one of Hollywood's leading studios.

In an exclusive interview with The Hollywood Reporter in Berlin, where he is overseeing the launch of Comedy Central in Germany, Redstone called Paramount's current lineup "fantastic" and predicted a major upswing in the first half of the year.

" 'Dreamgirls' has been nominated for eight Academy Awards. 'Babel' has been nominated for a lot, including best picture," Redstone said. "Steven Spielberg has a picture coming — 'Transformers.' I've seen part of it; it is fantastic. (Brian Robbins' comedy) 'Norbit' opened to $34 million on its first weekend. We have another Indiana Jones (movie) coming up … in 2008. You will see us rising from the bottom to the top or very near the top in the first six months of this year."

Redstone said he fully supports the "leadership" of Paramount Pictures CEO Brad Grey, who has been overhauling the studio, reshaping it into four distinct labels. Several heads have rolled as a result of the restructuring, including Paramount Pictures president Gail Berman and co-president of production Allison Shearmur.

The moves essentially put Grey in full control of Paramount. A situation that appears to suit Redstone just fine.

"We have a great leader in Brad Grey," Redstone said. "I think he is doing just about all the right things," Redstone said. "I saw him in London before I came to Germany — at the BAFTAs, where several of our pictures were nominated. I've always said what makes a difference between the winners and the losers is what management brings to the assets. And I believe we have the best management possible at Viacom, at CBS and at the studio."

While reluctant to further discuss Paramount's decision to cancel its production deal with Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner's Cruise Wagner Prods., Redstone said the move did send a signal to the industry.

"I prefer not to talk about Tom Cruise, who is a great actor," Redstone said. "It was just his behavior. It was, at that time, unacceptable. It is probably changing. But if there was a message, it was this: We are paying the talent too much. Because it is not the talent that makes the movie, it is the script. The play's the thing, as someone once said. And if you have a great script, the talent rushes to appear in it and at not too heavy a price."

Not surprisingly, Redstone also fiercely defended Viacom's recent decision to pull all of its copyrighted content off YouTube.

"The fact of the matter is: Without copyright protection, there is no entertainment business," he said. "We instructed YouTube to remove 100,000 pieces of video from their site. Why? Because they were using it without paying for it. I don't believe in that. If you want to use us, pay us. We are the only totally content company, and our content has taken years and years to develop. People who want to use it are going to pay us or goodbye."

Redstone said Viacom would consider doing a deal with Viacom if "they offer us something that is commensurate with the value of the programming that we spend millions to create. But it would have to be a very, very good deal for Viacom before we would look at it seriously."

While Redstone pointed out that Viacom will earn "hundreds of millions of dollars" this year in the digital media arena, he downplayed the importance of the Internet as a business proposition.

"Look, right now, with all the conversation, the Internet will provide about 5% (of total revenue)," he said. "Maybe a little more in the United States, maybe a little more in Germany. So it is a growth opportunity, we are aware of it, and we are doing everything we can to drive it. But it will take time. I think people do a lot of talking without realizing that, at the present time, its economic importance to a company like ours is relatively modest."

On the question of who will eventually replace him as head of Viacom, the 83-year-old mogul joked that he "never" plans to retire but insisted that he will not pressure Viacom's board to accept a handpicked successor.

"Ultimately the board will determine my successor," Redstone said. "But they won't have a chance to do that for a long time."