Even though it looked pretty likely last month, there’s some doubt now that CBS and Viacom will merge. Things are changing fast today so here’s what we know so far, according to The Hollywood Reporter and other sources.
According to Variety a judge has refused to issue another temporary restraining order against Shari Redstone, so this means the merger is now more likely. CBS isn’t ruling out the possibility of a lawsuit, though, so it’s hard to know what’s coming up.
Shari Redstone, daughter of onetime CBS/Viacom mogul Sumner Redstone and a mover and shaker in her own right, was rumored to be trying to shake up the boards of both CBS and Viacom to accommodate a merger between the two companies. A restraining order was granted yesterday to stop her from doing that, at least until today.
CBS’ management, which does not want the merger, filed a lawsuit Monday accusing Ms. Redstone of “breaching fiduciary duties” in other words not acting in the company’s best interest. Ms. Redstone’s company, National Amusements, controls a significant share of both CBS and Viacom
Remember that until 2005 CBS and Viacom were part of the same media empire (although it was called Viacom, it’s technically not the same as today’s Viacom.) The company split in 2005 for many reasons, one being that government control over large media companies was very different than it is today. In the interim, we’ve seen Comcast grow to swallow up NBC, Disney take over pretty much everything in our childhoods including ABC and ESPN, and AT&T join with DIRECTV and potentially Time Warner.
Since 2005, big media has gotten bigger and Ms. Redstone thinks that these two companies need to be bigger together in order to compete.
What happens now
CBS’ board meets today and the potential merger will be on the table. CBS shareholders seem to think that their company will be weakened by a merger with Viacom. Viacom owns and operates properties like Nickelodeon, MTV, and Comedy Central and was hurt back in 2012 by a messy fight with DIRECTV. To be honest, DIRECTV cleaned Viacom’s clock back then and Viacom had no choice but to come running back after a long blackout that didn’t affect DIRECTV but caused Viacom ratings to utterly tank.
CBS thinks it will be better off without Viacom, which is the whole reason for the concern. Ms. Redstone clearly disagrees, and it seems that Viacom’s board is behind her. She seems to control enough of the votes of both companies to make the merger happen, as long as she manages to avoid any more legal entanglements.
Why a geek should care
A geek like myself cares for one reason and one reason only: Star Trek. The Trekverse was torn apart in 2005 when Viacom split into two entities. It was the split that really took it off the air and kept Trek off TV for 13 more years. It’s the reason that the movies take place in one timeline and the TV show takes place in another. It’s the reason that startrek.com lay in shambles for most of the ’00s and it’s the reason that it’s still hard to know where Trek stands today. The movie side seems to be moving forward with two new films, possibly. The TV side is walled off, tied to a pay service that probably wouldn’t survive otherwise.
Merging CBS and Viacom would bring the two halves of Star Trek’s addled psyche together. It would be much like using the transporter in the classic episode The Enemy Within. It would restore a level of connection between movies and TV that has been missing for a generation. More importantly it would allow Trek to grow past its current, somewhat rootbound state.
It’s not over
No matter what happens today, it will take a while for the government to work out the implications of such a merger. As we’ve seen with other media and computer mergers, they may step in to block it. So hold on to your tribbles because it’s going to be a bumpy ride.