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Is Sumner Redstone experiencing a bout of inter-mogul envy? As he offloaded his second Tom in a matter of weeks (this time Mr Freston, Viacom chief executive), one of his bugbears seemed to be that Rupert Murdoch had outwitted him on MySpace.
News Corporation snatched the hugely popular social networking site from under Viacom’s nose last year and it now forms the centrepiece of Mr Murdoch’s digital strategy. That seemingly coherent online position, coupled with positive momentum at News Corp’s underlying businesses, has helped push the shares up 23 per cent this year.
Viacom has faced the opposite. Its shares have fallen 14 per cent as investors have fretted about the underlying growth potential of the group’s cable networks in a changing media landscape. And Viacom has failed to convince them of its ability to generate new revenue online – particularly important for Viacom given the potential fickleness of its youth audience at, say, MTV.
Mr Redstone cannot be accused of standing still. He was early to break his media group into Viacom and CBS in the hope of freeing the former to grow more rapidly. That failed to kick-start the share price. Will changing the management do any better? By bringing back his trusted lieutenant Philippe Dauman to run the business, Mr Redstone is re-asserting his control. He is also sending a signal that the company is going to be more aggressive at going after new digital opportunities. Neither of those are particularly reassuring in the short term, not least because they increase uncertainty.
In fact, there is unlikely to be a massive shift in strategy or in Viacom’s asset mix. Viacom will court Wall Street more actively. It will probably make decisions faster. But, as Mr Redstone has already shown, more action does not necessarily translate into a higher share price.