MediaFile

MTV lays off staff; Viacom chief cuts outlook

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.

Advertising weak? Quit worrying so much already

Viacom Inc’s not sweating it, Time Warner Inc. isn’t all that concerned. Why, CBS Corp and Discovery Communications Inc. are cool as cucumbers. Disney certainly sounds confident, as does Scripps Networks Interactive.

So why are investors and analysts — those Nervous Nellies of the financial world — so worried about the advertising market? Besides, you know, the fact that the stock market is getting smacked around, the job picture is just ridiculous, and the U.S. housing market is a wreck. Besides Europe’s debt crisis, which seems to have no resolution in sight. Besides the memories of 2009, when U.S. advertising spending dropped by 16 percent to $163 billion.

It may simply be that advertisers haven’t yet made the decision the cut budgets. But listening to all the top media executives at the Goldman Sachs Communicopia Conference this week left one with the impression that they are feeling pretty upbeat about advertising — and don’t expect any cuts in the near future.

Viacom digs up more YouTube documents for court case

EricSchmidt1Viacom’s ongoing legal fisticuffs with Google over alleged piracy on YouTube rages on. The MTV and Nickelodeon owner on Thursday put out nine additional exhibits in addition to the hundreds of pages that were  put out last month including transcripted deposition from Google CEO Eric Schmidt.  Viacom, which extended CEO Philippe Dauman’s contract today, said the exhibits “make clear one of our core claims in the case: that Google made a deliberate, calculated business decision not only to profit from copyright infringement, but also to use the threat of copyright infringement to try to coerce rights owners like Viacom into licensing their content on Google’s terms.”

Viacom is making that claim based on various statements from Google senior employees while management was considering buying YouTube. 

As for Schmidt’s deposition from May 2009 it’s not particularly controversial, with perhaps the most interesting statement being that he owns 30 computers and claims it has been his practice for 30 years to not retain his emails unless asked specifically.

Viacom: Don’t look to us for major dealmaking

After Comcast-NBC Universal, investment bankers are clearly drooling at the thought of some big money wheeling and dealing in the media business. Probably best not to count too heavily on Viacom being a player.

Viacom Chief Executive Philippe Dauman, speaking at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference, was asked about his company’s interest in acquisitions. His response was less than inspiring if you’re thinking about blockbuster deals:  “I’ll tell you the kind of acquisition we like. We recent bought the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for $60 million.”

While Dauman said Viacom would also consider looking at some independent cable networks in the U.S. or overseas, he made it know that “we are not interested in making the big splashy acquisition out there.”

Sun Valley: A Who’s Who in pictures

Nearly every powerful media and technology executive you can think of will be camping out in the idyllic and affluent ski resort town of Sun Valley this week. Here are just a few…

Robert Kotick, CEO of Activision Blizzard, Michael Larson of Cascade Investments and Ron Meyer, president and COO Universal Studios arrive at the Sun Valley Inn.

Fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg and her husband Barry Diller, chairman and CEO of IAC/InterActivecorp, arrive at the Sun Valley Inn with Eric Eisner.

Sun Valley: Reuters returns to Idaho

Nearly every powerful media and technology executive you can think of will be camping out in the idyllic and affluent ski resort town of Sun Valley this week. They have aimed their Gulfstreams squarely at Idaho so they can show up at the 27th edition of Allen & Co’s media and technology conference, which investment banker Herb Allen holds every summer here.

That means nearly every media reporter you can think of will be hovering among the hedgerows and parking lots (and in the bar, naturally), waiting to get a few precious seconds with super-wattage movie executives from DreamWorks’s Jeffrey Katzenberg to Paramount’s Brad Grey, technology heavyweights such as Michael Dell and Bill Gates, media kingpins Philippe Dauman and Rupert Murdoch and fresh-faced startup darlings like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter’s Evan Williams and Ning’s Gina Bianchini.

Reuters, of course, will be among the press crew at the scene. Reporters Yinka Adegoke and Alexei Oreskovic will show up, as will I, and photographer Rick Wilking will be shooting the pictures that at Sun Valley often tell a more eloquent story than any text dispatch can.

Sumner Redstone cool with Dauman; theaters hot with buyers

As we previously noted in MediaFile the main takeway from Viacom’s earnings call was that advertising is awful, but it’s not getting worse. But there were a few other highlights, too, so here’s a time-saving rundown:

Sumner Redstone is still a gigantic fan of Philippe Dauman. Even after 12-months in which Viacom’s stock price has dropped 50 percent, Redstone introduced Dauman as “my great friend” and “the greatest CEO of all” while crediting him “capable and insightful leadership.”

National Amusement’s movie theaters are a hot ticket. Redstone said the sale of theaters in the United Kingdom and United States has attracted “substantial preliminary interest” from buyers. “”We are very encouraged by both the number of interested bidders and particularly the prices being discussed.”

A $1 bln suit won’t stop Google from getting its Dauman

The big highlight of the McGraw-Hill media summit in New York when NBC Universal’s Jeff Zucker took a couple of shots at Jon Stewart.

But our favorite story came at the end of the day, courtesy of Viacom top dog Philippe Dauman. The background to this story was a question about Viacom’s $1 billion lawsuit against Google’s YouTube  over copyright infringement.

That led Dauman to mention that his son, Phillippe Dauman Jr., happens to work at… wait for it… Google.

Who’s ready for a little dealmaking?

******Current valuations for media companies must have opened up some opportunities for dealmaking, right? It’s hard to argue that things aren’t getting cheap.******Well, two of the industry’s top dogs, Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman and Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes, seem to have differing views on whether the media meltdown makes for a good time to wheel and deal. Both were asked about it during presentations at the Deutsche Bank Annual Media & Telecommunications Conference.******Dauman said Viacom, owner of MTV and Paramount, wants to focus on internal growth, mentioning Nickelodeon’s international expansion and the Colors television channel in India. “I continue to believe that we are better off investing in growing our own brands than spending significant money on acquisitions,” he said “I don’t see our using huge dollars to make an acquisition anytime soon.”******Bewkes left the door slightly more ajar. He said a lot of the assets or companies out there — “you can fill in the usual suspects” — have previously been way overpriced. “Up ’til now, those things have been around at prices that just don’t provide a return,” he said.******Deals may now make more sense. “We have room for acquisitions if there are real opportunities out there that don’t represent stupid prices or acquisitions risks,” he said when asked if they were on the prowl.******Time Warner, of course, knows a thing of two about stupid prices and acquisition risks.******Speaking of which… Not surprisingly, Bewkes was asked about AOL. He provided fairly stock answers, saying he was disappointed in ad sales and would still consider a deal for the troubled web business. “We always remain open for scale combinations that put any of our businesses in a better position,” he said. “We remain open to that.”******(Photo: Reuters)