Here We Go Again: CBS and Viacom Officially Agree to Explore a Merger

Disney-Fox deal leads National Amusements to reconsider reuniting

Leslie Moonves and Robert Bakish could end up at the same company if CBS and Viacom decide to merge. Getty Images
Headshot of Jason Lynch

Just 13 months after parent company National Amusement pulled the plug on a CBS-Viacom merger, the two companies could be heading down the aisle once again. The board of directors for both companies today announced that they have each formed a special committee of independent directors to evaluate a potential reunion.

In a release announcing the special committee, CBS cautioned, “There can be no assurance that this process will result in a transaction or on what terms any transaction may occur.” The company said neither it nor the committee will comment further “until the process is completed.”

Viacom issued a similar statement, adding, “the Committee has retained independent legal counsel and is retaining independent financial advisors in connection with this evaluation.”

The merger of CBS and Viacom, which seemed like a foregone conclusion for much of 2016, was put on hold in December of that year by National Amusements, which owns 80 percent of the voting shares of both Viacom and CBS.

In a letter sent to both boards from National Amusements CEO Sumner Redstone and his daughter Shari Redstone, who is vice chair, the two stated they had asked the CBS and Viacom boards to cease discussions of a potential merger “and focus instead on their independent paths forward.”

The companies initially split 12 years ago, but merger talks had ignited in 2016 when Redstone prevailed over former Viacom president and CEO Philippe Dauman after months of fighting over the future of Viacom.

Those talks ended after the December 2016 letter from the Redstones. However, Disney’s decision in December to buy 21st Century Fox for $52.4 billion prompted Shari Redstone to reconsider her decision to keep the companies separate.

Through the 2016 merger discussions, CBS CEO and chairman Leslie Moonves reiterated, “We will only do a deal if it’s in the best interest of CBS and all of its shareholders.”

Since the merger talks were scrapped a year ago, Viacom has stabilized itself and set a new strategy under CEO Robert Bakish, shifting its resources to six “flagship” networks, including Paramount Network, formerly Spike, which just launched in January. “There is a renewed energy that I haven’t seen here in many, many years,” Viacom ad sales chief Sean Moran told Adweek last year.

But now questions surround the future of both companies. In the most likely scenario, if a merger does go through, Moonves would lead the combined company, and Bakish would report to him.

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.