SAN FRANCISCO – The messy legal battle over Sumner Redstone’s media empire appears to have come to an end.
According to an internal memo provided by Viacom on Friday, CEO Philippe Dauman will step down, making Thomas E. Dooley, currently chief operating officer, acting chief executive. The move is part of a settlement the Viacom board approved with National Amusements, a private company owned by the 93-year-old Redstone that holds controlling stakes in both Viacom and CBS.
Analysts said the deal eliminates uncertainty over Viacom’s management, although some argued the company still faces headwinds. Viacom Inc. owns the Paramount Pictures movie studio and pay TV channels such as MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and BET. Paramount is having trouble pumping out enough hits, while the cable channels face a widespread decline in TV viewers, particularly among younger people.
The settlement caps a bitter struggle between Dauman and Redstone’s formerly estranged daughter, Shari Redstone, now a Viacom director and president of National Amusements. In May, Sumner Redstone stripped Dauman and George Abrams, another long-time adviser, of key positions as trustees and board members of National Amusements.
In turn, the two men argued in legal proceedings that Redstone wasn’t mentally competent and was being manipulated by his daughter.
Under the settlement, reached Thursday, Dooley will serve as interim chief executive through Sept. 30, the end of the company’s fiscal year. Dooley may have a shot at holding the top job permanently, analysts said. In addition, Dauman will continue as nonexecutive chairman of Viacom until Sept. 13, at which point he will leave the board.
The Viacom board will also expand in size, adding five new members nominated by National Amusements. While the memo didn’t identify those members, National Amusements had previously sought to oust five existing Viacom directors — including Dauman and Abrams — and to replace them with its own candidates. Among its proposed directors were BuzzFeed Chairman Kenneth Lerer, former Discovery Communications CEO Judith McHale, former DreamWorks SKG co-COO Ronald Nelson and former Sony Entertainment President Nicole Seligman.