MTV lays off staff; Viacom chief cuts outlook

September 23, 2011

Philippe Dauman Viacom CEO (R) with rapper/mogul Sean Combs

As Viacom Chief Executive Philippe Dauman was managing investors expectations speaking downtown at the Goldman Sachs Communicopia conference, back at  its midtown Times Square HQ, staffers at flagship unit MTV Networks were fretting as pink slips were being handed out. There was widespread concern internally, according to a source. (AdWeek reported it last night).

Dauman was his usual deadpan self as he lowered outlook, saying advertising sales would still be up but by “high single digits” percentage growth rather than the double digits growth he had promised as recently the third quarter call just last month.

Viacom shares tanked by some 9 percent on Thursday, more than a wider market downturn, as investors read Dauman’s cutback as an early sign of worse to come. The worry on everyone’s minds is of another major 2008-like ad recession may be round the corner. Shares are off another 3  percent on Friday morning.  It’s worth noting CBS, whose revenue is 70 percent advertising, dropped by 7 percent despite bullish comments by CEO Les Moonves a day earlier. It shows how jumpy everyone is right now.

But in fact Dauman explained that the cut back was due to a short-term programming ratings issue rather than economic headwinds.

Here’s Nomura analyst Michael Nathanson said he had “unpleasant flashbacks to May 2008″ when Viacom lowered advertising guidance during a Q&A he had Dauman. However, there are a number of key differences.” He says Viacom has less debt load than 2008, it’s trading at a lower valuation than in 2008 and he feels it will benefit from ongoing profit margin expansion at its international business.

“The company blamed a short-term ratings issue for the lower numbers rather than a change in tone from advertisers. Despite widespread comments that the market is healthy, we worry that slowing national TV scatter, as we picked up in August channel checks, is as much to blame as ratings.”

As for the staff cuts? We’ve heard they were not “big sweeping” cuts but “isolated changes” at a brand and business unit with the Music Group Digital being the most affected.  Less than a 100 we’re assured, but no one at Viacom is willing to confirm numbers just yet.  We’re also privately assured by a person familiar with Viacom that  Dauman’s  Thursday presentation saying  ad sales being pretty strong even as pink slips were being handed out was an unfortunate coincidence.

Here’s Viacom”s statement on the job cuts:

Our individual brands and business units regularly adjust resources to address their evolving strategies and needs, and they will continue to do so.

 

 

 

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