Viacom Dividend Icing on Sumner’s Birthday Cake

But mogul should wish for bigger 'Barbarellas' audience

On the eve of his 88th birthday, Sumner Redstone illustrated the validity of the old adage “the rich get richer.” In increasing its quarterly dividend 67 percent to 25 cents a share, Viacom ensured that its chairman’s annual payoff would balloon by as much as $41 million.

According to Viacom regulatory filings, Redstone controls 41.4 million Viacom voting shares, or 80 percent of the total voting stock, plus roughly 1,300 nonvoting shares. The media mogul also owns 34.5 million voting shares of CBS, or 79 percent, plus another 8.26 million nonvoting shares.

The new dividend is payable on July 1. This spring, Forbes estimated Redstone’s net worth at $3.8 billion.

“Viacom is in excellent shape financially and momentum across our businesses is strong,” said Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman, announcing the dividend. Dauman added that the substantial increase in it “reflects the confidence we have in our ability to generate ample free cash flow to support returning greater value to our stockholders, while continuing to maintain a strong balance sheet and invest in the long-term growth of our operations.”

Redstone’s lieutenants are also generously compensated. Last year, Dauman was the highest-paid chief executive in the U.S., boasting a package worth $84.3 million. His counterpart at CBS Corp., Les Moonves, also enjoyed a banner year, raking in $53.9 million, a sum that included a $27.5 million bonus.

Not everything Redstone touches turns to gold, however. According to Nielsen, the new MTV series, The Electric Barbarellas, is putting up less than stellar ratings. Reportedly pushed into production at Redstone’s bidding, the half-hour paean to a bikini-clad girl group has averaged 858,000 viewers over the course of three episodes.

Of these, 652,000, or 76 percent, are members of MTV’s target demo (viewers 12-34).

A bone of contention for recently exited MTV Networks chief Judy McGrath—perhaps not coincidentally, the 30-year veteran left the company the morning after the Barbarellas premiere—the show is a thinly veiled hybrid of “reality” and scripted content. (The poor behavior on display puts one in mind of Oxygen’s Bad Girls Club, although in this case, the drunken reprobates harbor wholly unrealistic musical ambitions.)

Barbarellas bowed on May 4 to 821,000 viewers, reaching a high-water mark on May 18 with a delivery of 959,000 viewers. Ratings for last night’s episode were unavailable.