Viacom in Talks to Sell Majority Stake in China TV Channels

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Viacom president and CEO Bob Bakish

A deal would bring Viacom’s China television brands business in line with its ownership structure elsewhere in Asia.

Viacom is considering selling off majority control of its Chinese TV operations.

The media giant has held talks with at least one interested Chinese entity, the Wall Street Journal was the first to report Monday. The talks have centered on a potential sale of Viacom's TV networks business in China, including MTV and Nickelodeon, sources with knowledge of the situation confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter. 

The China operations of Paramount Pictures, also owned by Viacom, were not said to be involved in such discussions. Paramount's Transformers spinoff Bumblebee is currently leading the China box office with ticket sales totaling $106 million after two weekends.

The news comes amid a trade war and softer media industry growth in China than at any time in recent memory. The Journal's sources, who were not named, said Viacom has been frustrated by the difficulties in scaling its business in the world's most populous nation. A sale could also reduce the U.S. company's political exposure during a time of rising tensions between Beijing and Washington. Putting a Chinese entity in the driver's seat would provide a measure of regulatory security while allowing Viacom to still maintain some profits.

A deal in China also would bring Viacom’s business there in line with the structure pursued elsewhere in Asia, especially India. Viacom reduced its stake in its India joint venture, Viacom18, to a minority position in January 2018. Viacom’s Indian partner Reliance Industries upped its stake from 50 to 51 percent for $20 million, taking operational control of the company. Viacom also has a similar arrangement in place in South Korea, where its local partner, SBS, has majority control over the joint venture channels SBS MTV and Nickelodeon Korea.

Viacom, led by CEO Bob Bakish, has operated in China for more than 20 years. The company runs the 24-hour MTV Mandarin channel and Nickelodeon China with CCTV, as well as licenses a substantial amount of content to local streaming services like iQiyi. Viacom also has plans to build two Nickelodeon-branded theme parks in China with local partners.