Sumner Redstone attends Viacom shareholders' meeting
Who is the man behind the curtain at Viacom? Sumner Redstone, of course.
After much speculation about the health of the company's 88-year-old chairman, Viacom Inc. opened its annual shareholders meeting Thursday morning in New York by dramatically parting a curtain for the big reveal: the ginger-haired Redstone on stage, sitting at a table along with two other senior Viacom executives — Chief Executive Philippe Dauman and General Counsel Michael Fricklas.
Last week, Redstone — who lives in Los Angeles — made headlines after deciding not to fly across the country to attend the annual session with shareholders in New York. A company spokesman initially said that Redstone — who controls nearly 80% of Viacom's voting shares — had an "unavoidable conflict" that would prevent his attendance. Media reports about Redstone's decision to skip the meeting prompted inquiries from shareholders, leading Redstone to make the trip after all.
"To paraphrase my very good friend Mark Twain, who couldn't be here with us today ... reports of my absence from this meeting have been greatly exaggerated," Redstone said to open the meeting, after the curtain parted, according to a Viacom executive in attendance.
Redstone in recent years has been cutting back on public appearances as his mobility has become an issue. The mogul, who will turn 89 this spring, attended last month's 84th Academy Awards ceremony in Hollywood, and plans to participate in the festivities on Hollywood Boulevard when he receives a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame later this month.
He also kicks off every Viacom and CBS Corp. (which Redstone also controls) quarterly earnings call with Wall Street analysts, via speaker phone, by boasting about Viacom and CBS' sunny futures and how much he adores his two handpicked lieutenants, Viacom's Dauman and CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonves.
About 30 investors attended Viacom's meeting Thursday, along with about 90 Viacom employees. Two investors asked questions. One shareholder wanted to know whether Viacom's Hollywood movie studio, Paramount Pictures, was still in business with Steven Spielberg. Viacom's Dauman said "yes," noting that the celebrated director was an executive producer of the "Transformers" movies.
Another shareholder, an older woman, said that she thought the actor Timothy Olyphant ("Justified") was "very hot" and that he should appear in Paramount's movies.
Instead, Katy Perry will star this summer in a 3-D concert movie called "Katy Perry: Part of Me," Dauman announced at the meeting.
"Across our divisions, we strengthened our operational efficiency while continuing to invest in programming and films that resonate with audiences around the world," Dauman said. "On the eve of its 100th birthday, Paramount Pictures finished the 2011 calendar year as the No. 1 studio at the domestic box office. The studio captured the top spot thanks to an unprecedented run of highly successful films, including an industry-leading six consecutive films that earned $100 million or more in U.S. theaters."
At the end of the 45-minute meeting, the curtain closed, preventing spectators from witnessing Redstone's departure.
— Meg James
Photo: Sumner Redstone, center, arrives at the 84th Academy Awards ceremony in Hollywood on Feb. 26. Credit: Paul Buck / European Pressphoto Agency