NEW YORK • Viacom and CBS chairman emeritus Sumner Redstone, the media mogul who took his father’s movie theatre chain and built it into an empire that included Paramount Pictures, CBS and MTV, has died at 97, ViacomCBS and National Amusements said yesterday.
Mr Redstone, as executive chairman of both Viacom and CBS, had controlled the two companies through privately held National Amusements. But in his early 90s, the state of his physical and mental health set off an avalanche of corporate manoeuvring over his media holdings that resulted in him stepping down in 2016 as executive chairman of both companies.
CBS and Viacom were combined from 2000 to 2006, when Mr Redstone separated them in an attempt to unleash the value of Viacom’s cable channels. His position as one of the world’s towering media moguls had begun fading in 2015 as those close to him began questioning his mental capacity.
The long-running legal battle that ensued put him at odds with a former girlfriend and long-time confidante Philippe Dauman but reunited him with his daughter, Shari, from whom he had been estranged.
The challenges to Mr Redstone’s mental health saw him being replaced as CBS’ executive chairman by Mr Les Moonves and at Viacom by Mr Dauman, whom Mr Redstone would later drop from the trust that was to determine the direction of both companies after his death.
After much legal and backroom wrangling that one observer likened to Game Of Thrones, the Redstone family ousted Mr Dauman from Viacom in August 2016, ultimately replacing him with Mr Robert Bakish.
Mr Dauman had been among those questioning Mr Redstone’s mental capacity and his influence had waned after Mr Redstone’s daughter, Shari, started taking a more active role in his business.
Since 2016, Ms Shari has pushed twice to merge CBS and Viacom. She has also weathered a lawsuit aimed at diluting her family’s control of CBS, and a sexual misconduct scandal at CBS, which resulted in the September 2018 resignation of Mr Moonves at CBS. Viacom and CBS re-merged in 2019.
After decades spent building his empire, Mr Redstone’s participation at corporate events became minimal in 2014 and he spoke only a few words on earnings calls.
Mr Redstone’s death, which comes at a time when the media landscape is enduring wrenching changes, thins the ranks of a group of media executives, including Mr Rupert Murdoch and Mr Ted Turner, who changed the world of news and entertainment with the companies they built.