In The Viacom-MTV Playground, Is Redstone Cool Leader Or Bully?

Tom Freston’s longstanding status in fronting the house band at Viacom Inc. has played his last set, which begs the question: Is everyone at CBS or Viacom merely at a Sumner Redstone audition, no matter how recent the hire?

Hmm… How were Katie Couric’s ratings last night, anyway? Sound crazy? Oh, yeah? Two words: Tom Cruise.  

One minute Redstone’s major lieutenant--Freston--is making a blockbuster deal to acquire DreamWorks to add some zest to the flagging Paramount Pictures division, and the next moment Redstone is calling Tom Cruise names, claiming that “Mission Impossible III” could have done at least $150 million more at the box office had Tom merely jumped on the floor of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” instead of the upholstery.

But Freston? That’s the guy who has been Redstone’s bread and butter since 1987. And Redstone replaced him with two former Viacom senior business guys, Philippe Dauman and Tom Dooley, who never had operating experience running a media company.  (Dauman also has the unique distinction of being the executor of the Redstone estate)



Tom Cruise is gone and now Tom Freston. Perhaps first names are a trend.

Brad could be another one. The New York Times speculates Paramount Pictures chief Brad Grey could make it two Toms and a Brad. Brad Grey is a newcomer, hired in 2005 by Freston. 

It’s Sumner’s toy box, says media analyst Dennis McAlpine. But with almost 6 percent of Viacom’s stock sinking yesterday, investors believe fewer pails and shovels will be around to play with.

This doesn’t come as much of a surprise to many. For years now, media agency executives have scratched their collective heads in wonderment: How could a cable network like MTV grow its advertising dollars with such a narrow targeted audience as teens and young adults?

MTV proved everyone wrong. It was able to consistently grab more money from young-skewing advertisers because, after all, we all want to be young--or at least give that appearance. MTV also proved people wrong by somehow fostering an incredibly durable brand that seemingly never fell out of favor with new generations of young TV viewers who, traditionally, have been fickle when it comes to its TV tastes.

Now Sumner is hoping MTV will continue to be the cool leader in the playground that everyone will follow.  If that doesn’t work, you can always get one big bully to push people around.

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