Redstone Rebuffs CBS-Viacom Reunion

NEW YORK CBS Corp. chairman and controlling shareholder Sumner Redstone said Thursday that the company never would be reunited with sibling Viacom, which he also controls.

Redstone said at CBS’ annual shareholder meeting that a renewed combination would “absolutely not happen” despite a recent New York Post report suggesting that Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman was pushing for it sometime in the future. CBS and Viacom split in 2006.

“There has never been any such plan in existence and never will be,” Redstone said.

Redstone also gave a thumbs up to CBS’ proposed acquisition of CNET — which has drawn criticism from some quarters given the high $1.8 billion price tag — arguing that it was the best deal that could be made.

“Les [Moonves] and his team usually do everything right,” Redstone said. “Therefore I have to believe that management is right.”

The state of the U.S. economy was a recurring theme in Moonves’ presentation and the shareholder question-and-answer session.

After calling 2007 a “truly unique year,” the CBS president and CEO acknowledged that an economic downturn started last summer and has affected corporate America.

“CBS is no exception to this trend,” even though record political advertising sales have helped the firm’s TV and radio stations, he said. “Beyond political, however, the local TV advertising market has been challenged by a difficult economy.”

Moonves lauded his company’s TV unit for solid financials in spite of economic weakness and the writers strike and highlighted that recent job cuts at the CBS TV stations were one way to ensure continued performance amid a sluggish economy.

Questioned by a shareholder about broadcast TV ad losses to other media, Moonves said that reports of the end of broadcast TV have been exaggerated. “The erosion to cable and Internet is not as severe as reported,” he argued.

And though he admitted that retailers have pulled back ad commitments as they typically do during tough economic times, “We are very sure they will come back,” Moonves said.

He also returned the expression of trust and loyalty from his chairman, thanking Redstone twice Thursday for his counsel and guidance. Redstone’s daughter and board member Shari was also in attendance.

Moonves also expressed frustration with a stock-price decline in 2007 but vowed to boost shares to the benefit of shareholders. He also highlighted CBS’ quarterly dividend of 27 cents per share, touting it as “the highest of any major media company.”