More trouble in the digital world. Aivars Lode
Media company says pretax charge to cover layoffs, asset write-downs as rerun values slide
By Keach Hagey
Viacom Inc. said it would take $785 million in pretax charges for job cuts and to write down the value of underperforming shows hit by weak ratings, a soft advertising market and growing online competition.
The layoffs affected as many as 400 people, according to people familiar with the matter, while the shows being written down include reruns of “CSI,” “Entourage” and “Community,” among others. Charges include an accounting change for programming such as reality and game shows that are losing their allure faster than in the past.
New York-based Viacom is grappling with weak ratings across all its major networks, and concerns on Wall Street that pay-TV providers may decide they can do without its bundle of channels. In the first quarter, its Nickelodeon channel was down 34% in its target demographic, its Comedy Central was off 30%, Spike dropped 23%, and MTV lost 34%, all compared with a year earlier, according to Jefferies and Nielsen estimates.
On Monday, it said the restructuring is expected to provide annual savings of about $350 million, and $175 million this year. The company disclosed plans for the restructuring in February during its first-quarter earnings call.
Net income in the media giant’s fiscal second quarter is projected to fall 15% to $429 million, according to analysts’ estimates compiled by FactSet. Viacom earned $502 million in net profit on $3.17 billion in revenue a year ago.
About $430 million of the write-down is to account for underperforming programming, including abandoning some acquired shows, according to a regulatory filing on Monday. The charge underscores the difficulty that many big media companies are facing with reruns as they cope with cord-cutting, Netflix’s popularity and rapid changes in what viewers find popular.
The restructuring formalizes the reorganization of Viacom’s television networks into two groups from three. That move was signaled when longtime Viacom executive Van Toffler, who led the group that included MTV, VH1 and CMT, said in February he would leave the company in April and his division’s channels would be absorbed by two newly reorganized groups.
The company said the new structure “realigns sales, marketing, creative and support functions, increases efficiencies in program and product development, enhances opportunities to share expertise, and promotes greater cross-marketing and cross channel programming activity.”
The company also said that the savings would let it reallocate resources to expand in new areas like “data analysis, technology development and consumer insights.”
Viacom Chief Executive Philippe Dauman has been one of the most vocal critics of Nielsen’s ability to measure viewing that occurs on nontraditional platforms like mobile devices, and has pledged to increase the amount of its revenues that are “non-Nielsen-dependent” to 50% from 30%.
The recent proliferation of competition for viewers’ attention from streaming video services like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu may be largely to blame for the steep drop off in cable TV’s ratings. The Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau estimates that about 40% of third- and fourth-quarter TV ratings declines can be attributed to such subscription online video services, according to people who attended the industry group’s March meeting.
Because of the charge and other acquisitions, Viacom said it would “temporarily pause” until October a $20 billion share repurchase program.
Viacom, which is controlled by media mogul Sumner Redstone, fell as much as 1.8% in late trading after closing up 98 cents at $68.92 in 4 p.m. Nasdaq trading. Its shares were off 19% in the last 12 months.