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Viacom Squabbling Troublesome for Investors

There has been quite a bit of drama playing out in the entertainment space lately as Viacom (NYSE: VIAB) is enthralled in an unprecedented fight over who will be in charge of the $17 billion company.

The power struggle antics over who will control the company are serving to aggravate shareholders who were already concerned about the mental health of the company’s controlling shareholder Sumner Redstone. They could be getting some idea of the future of the company soon, as the matter has made into the court system. Last week, Shari Redstone, the daughter of the company’s founder Sumner Redstone, filed papers with the courts, highlighting the increased likelihood that there may be no amicable solution to stop the squabbling.

 · What is going on?

Viacom is a well-respected media conglomerate that is best known for its media networks and film entertainment segments. It provides entertainment for consumers through channels that include Comedy Central, MTV, VH1, and Nickelodeon. Its film entertainment segment produces movies under brands that include Paramount Pictures and MTV Films.

If you recall, about 10 years ago, Redstone separated Viacom from CBS. He now reportedly owns 80% of the voting stake in the two companies.

In May, Redstone removed Viacom Chief Executive Philippe Dauman and board member George Abrams. Specifically, they were removed as trustees and members of the board of National Amusements, which the Redstone family uses as an investment vehicle. Observers have chimed in saying that the two and other members of the board could be replaced by people with ties to Sumner Redstone’s daughter, Shari. She’s thought to be pulling the strings, as opponents of the changes charge that the 93-year-old Sumner Redstone may be making such dramatic decisions because of a diminished mental capacity.

Crying foul over their removal, and the negative consequences they perceive the changes will have on the company, Dauman and Abrams are vowing to fight to get their positions back. A hearing over the matter has been set for June 7 over the matter.

 · What’s at stake for shareholders

Viacom shareholders had been preparing for the company to sell a significant portion of its minority stake in its Paramount film unit. A major concern is that these board and likely management maneuvers may threaten that deal.

Investors complained the unit should be sold due to weak advertising sales and poor ratings at cable networks. Possible buyers include Chinese firms and tech companies that want to develop original content. When the sale was proposed earlier this spring, June was set as a target date to complete it. However, Redstone’s camp has released statements that say he questioned the need for the sale.

 · Should you buy Viacom now?

Given that so much is up in the air for Viacom, I would not invest it in in the short-term. A long-term play would be more appropriate to allow time for all of this to shake out, which will most likely be in the courts. With many allegations and looming lawsuits at play, Viacom may not be a good stock to get into right now. You may want to consider some of Viacom’s competitors, such as SNI Scripps Networks (NYSE: SNI), CBS (NYSE: CBS) and Tegna (NYSE: TGNA). They are solid performers, and they are not in the midst of a power dispute.

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