Viacom Keeps 'Obsessing' -- But Where Is 'Noise' Coming From?

Kobe Bryant decided to retire when he found that, while meditating, he was no longer “obsessing” about basketball.

The Los Angeles Lakers sure-to-be Hall of Famer's meditations didn’t spur him to work harder in the sport he loved; he wasn’t all that interested anymore.

Digging deeper, you realize the “work” was never about resting and feeling comfortable. For any number of ” challenged” media companies “feeling comfortable” isn’t a phrase you’ll hear much.

All companies can be found to take a hit from time to time. But on Tuesday, Viacom went down an eye-popping 21%,  with its stock price closing at $32.86. About a year ago its stock price was above $70.

To be fair, many big media stocks also took major hits during that time period. Even highly regarded companies like Walt Disney dropped 4% in aftermarket trading on Tuesday after recording record quarterly net income.



What gives? The stock market is its own new animal these days. We also all know structural changes in the traditional TV and other media businesses are making investors uncomfortable.

Still, much criticism  was headed Philippe Dauman's way. He is now executive chairman, as well as president/chief executive officer of Viacom.

During the company's recent earnings phone call, critics wondered why he was rewarded with the new title, given Viacom’s continued “poor” performance.

Dauman lashed out: “Our outlook and the facts have been distorted and obscured by the naysayers, self-interested critics, and publicity seekers.”

If you look at Viacom from 2009-2013, he said, the company was “beating the S&P” 500. And what about the most recent years?Just “a lot of the noise that existed around us.”

Hmmm... What is that again? “Well, if you haven’t been listening, you don’t know what the noise is,” he said. “I think it’s obvious to everybody what the noise is.” We can be sure some “guidance” is coming.

Over the years, many have blamed Viacom for being slow to adopt strong digital media platforms. More recently, Viacom executives took a whack at Nielsen after a particularly difficult fall period some years back saying that the TV measurement company essentially doesn’t know what is is doing in this changing digital media landscape.

In particular, it says Nielsen is having a tough time  calculating young TV viewers -- which, of course, affects Viacom channels, like Nickelodeon and MTV.

Now, you might wonder: Is Viacom is meditating peacefully or “obsessing”?

I’d say the latter. Over the past year or so, Viacom has started up a number of new advertising initiatives -- including digital and social media efforts --  looking for new ways of giving advertisers key return on media investments, beyond what Nielsen or other standard third-party researchers currently offer.

In particular, Viacom senior executives say it continues to look for “non-Nielsen” monetization of its TV shows and content. You have to applaud that. Also give props to deals with SnapChat, which could pair nascent SnapChat digital ad inventory with linear TV inventory.

But it can’t stop there; not even close. Viacom needs to imagine it’s taking a big cross-country enlightening road trip. Why? Because obsession and difficulty meditating in the media space will only get more intense. Namaste.

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