Viacom's situation—in which its founder, CEO and board of directors are all engaged in a bitter legal battle over the company's future—just might have gone from bad to worse.
Just a week after buyers told Adweek that the Viacom upfront will progress smoothly as long as Jeff Lucas, head of marketing and partner solutions for Viacom, remains at the helm, a New York Post report claims that Lucas will be leaving Viacom in July to become COO of Snapchat.
Viacom and Snapchat said the report was inaccurate, with Viacom insisting that Lucas remains completely focused on Viacom's upfront. But both companies stopped short of issuing a full denial. In other words, Lucas could indeed be focused on the upfront for now, and then step aside for the Snapchat job later in the summer.
Lucas joined the company in 2005 as svp of Comedy Central ad sales and marketing. He's risen through the ranks and was named head of sales for MTV Networks' music and entertainment groups in 2010. In March 2015, he was put in charge of the entire Viacom portfolio.
Lucas has already been working closely with Snapchat. In February, Viacom began selling ads on behalf of the social network and launched global Discover channels for MTV and Comedy Central.
"If you take a look at the two companies and what we do, we go well together in terms of audience and content. We're the largest broadcaster to the millennial and centennial generation, and Snapchat is, on mobile, the No. 1 broadcaster to the millennial generation," Lucas told Adweek in February.
"They value our expertise in content creation and marketing, and we value their expertise in reaching a very hard-to-reach audience," he said.
Just last week, buyers told Adweek that as long as Lucas stayed in place, the public battle between chairman emeritus Sumner Redstone and current chairman and CEO Philippe Dauman would not affect upfront negotiations. "At this point, Jeff Lucas is a proven commodity, and they trust he will do the right thing," said one.
However, they said all bets would be off if Lucas was either pushed out by a change at the top, or chose to leave as a result of the upheaval, as the Post report suggests. "Then, it's time to worry," said Brian Wieser, senior research analyst at Pivotal Research, last week.
"The upfronts are looking strong, and there is heavy demand for Viacom's offerings," Lucas told Adweek in a statement last week.
Losing Lucas is the last thing that Viacom needs going into its upfront talks. The company has seen declining ratings at several of its networks (and on May 9, Comedy Central president Michele Ganeless became the latest Viacom network head to step down; she'll be replaced by president of original programming Kent Alterman). It still hopes to take advantage of what network chiefs believe will be the strongest upfront market in years.
But just as negotiations are beginning, Redstone and the company's current execs are making daily headlines. On Monday, the Viacom board of directors said it would fight any attempt from Redstone to remake the board.
On May 20, the 92-year-old mogul removed CEO Philippe Dauman and George Abrams from the seven-person trust that will control Viacom (and CBS Corp.) after his death. They sued in Massachusetts to block the removal; the first hearing in that case is set for June 7.
Last Tuesday, Redstone announced two new appointees to his trust—former media executive Jill Krutick and Tad Jankowski, who serves as general counsel to Redstone's holding company, National Amusements Inc.—to replace Dauman and Abrams. Redstone also named Krutick and Kimberlee Ostheimer, his oldest granddaughter, to the National Amusements board. "This is my trust and my decision. I have picked those who are loyal to me and removed those who are not," said Redstone in a statement.
In February, Redstone stepped down as executive chairman of both CBS Corp., where Leslie Moonves replaced him as chairman, and Viacom, where Dauman was elevated to executive chairman.