Viacom Activist Shareholder Calls for Firing of CEO, Re-Merging With CBS

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Viacom's Philippe Dauman

Meanwhile, a hearing in a case that pits chairman emeritus Sumner Redstone against CEO Philippe Dauman has been set for June 7.

As controlling stakeholder Sumner Redstone contemplates executive and boardroom changes at Viacom, a hedge fund manager who is one of the media conglomerate's most vocal critics of management is calling (again) for the removal of CEO Philippe Dauman.

"Fire Philippe Dauman ... Merge Viacom with CBS," said Eric Jackson of SpringOwl Asset Management, which owns a few thousand shares of Viacom.

On Friday, he said CBS CEO Leslie Moonves "is the best in the business," so he should therefore be put in charge of a combined Viacom-CBS.

Jackson first set his sights on Viacom in January with a 99-page slideshow he posted online that excoriated Dauman and others at Viacom. He called for a new chairman, and he got more than he bargained for when Redstone became chairman emeritus and Dauman was made executive chairman, a move he wasn't happy with given his low opinion of Dauman.

Redstone removed Dauman, and longtime attorney and friend George Abrams, from his trust that controls National Amusements, which in turn controls Viacom and CBS. Dauman sued over that maneuver, and a hearing is set for June 7, sooner than many observers expected.

At the heart of the matter is whether Shari Redstone "is attempting to illegally hijack her father's well-established estate plan," as Dauman recently put it. Insiders say the Viacom board has been trying unsuccessfully to meet with Sumner Redstone for about a month. "It's hide and seek at Sumner's house," quipped one person familiar with the situation. "It's like he's in a jail. No one can see him."

"In light of Philippe Dauman's suit brought against Sumner Redstone earlier this week, we believe Dauman is no longer fulfilling his fiduciary responsibilities to Viacom shareholders," Jackson said Friday. "It's in the best interests of both Viacom and CBS shareholders to see a re-merging of those two companies under the leadership of Moonves."

Meanwhile, though, investors are already benefiting from the mere thought that significant changes could be forthcoming, as the stock is up 15 percent since last Friday, when Redstone booted Dauman and Abrams from the trust and the National Amusements board.