But underneath all that is a stench of death. No one is facing it, which could spell opportunity.
I am not just talking about Sumner Redstone, now 88, Viacom's controlling shareholder. My mom's 88, turns 89 this summer, and people can live and function well a long time. But Redstone's daughter is 57, his son 60, the family's been squabbling for years and, more to the point, his operating man, Philippe Dauman, 58, has been missing some tricks lately.
What kind of tricks? Try the whole digital revolution.
- Viacom bought a software firm called Harmonix, dumped it last year for $50, and took a $379 million charge against earnings for the debacle.
- Consider that 92% of the company's revenues come from cable TV networks like Nickelodeon, whose audience shrank during the most important part of the year for kids' TV. Nickelodeon by itself is 25% of the company's ad revenue in the December quarter.
- Consider that the previous BNo. 2 man at the company, Tom Freston, was bounced in 2006 for refusing to buy MySpace. Redstone didn't want to lose it to that dreaded Murdoch fellow.
- Consider that poor performance last year cost Dauman half his pay and he still blames the collapse of the SOPA bill on a "mob mentality" among Web advocates of an "almost religious dogma."
Do I have to mention how threatened cable channels of all kinds are by Web video, that millions of cable customers are cutting the cable in favor of NetFlix (NASDAQ:NFLX) and YouTube (NASDAQ:GOOG), and that the big tech story of 2012 is likely to be TVs that integrate the Web with TV from Google, Apple and others?
What this all speaks to is a company that is out-of-touch, with a threatened product line and no clear path forward. It is, in the near term, a screaming sell.
But if someone with a clue as to how to monetize content across new platforms came along, someone, say, under 50, or if a private equity firm were ready to pony up the roughly $30 billion necessary to buy the thing and break it up, I'd definitely want to be in on that action.
Until then, no.