a media industry resource

Viacom Group


This profile considers Viacom, a US entertainment conglomerate that absorbed and then spun off the CBS broadcasting group.

It covers -

  • Introduction
  • The group
  • Holdings
  • CBS
  • Paramount
  • Structure
  • Studies


Viacom originated as a US cinema operator, moved into cable television and film/television production/distribution (Paramount), video rentals (Blockbuster), book publishing and the national CBS television network. In 2006 it spun off its broadcast, publishing, themepark and some cable tv interests as CBS Corporation.

The group

Viacom is based in New York. It is a major content developer and distributor, with significant US and overseas holdings that encompass broadcast and cable television, radio, publishing, outdoor advertising and online services.

Its brands include CBS, MTV, Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures, Infinity, Showtime, and Simon & Schuster. It formerly included the Blockbuster video rentail chain, spun off in 2004.

A chronology of Viacom's development is here. Its corporate site is here

Viacom was originally created by CBS in 1971 to get around a FCC ruling that prohibited television networks from owning cable systems and TV stations in the same market. It then began buying cable systems around the United States. In 1978 it formed Showtime and in 1981 an all-music station called Music Television.

In 1987 it was acquired by Sumner Redstone's National Amusements Inc, one of the larger cinema operators (with theatres in the US, Canada, South America and the EU). Viacom then bought Paramount (a conglomerate based on one of Hollywood's original movie studios and including the Simon & Schuster publishing group) and Blockbuster Video. In 1999 it swallowed CBS.

National Amusements is also the dominant shareholder in Midway Games Inc, known for Mortal Kombat and Defender.


The following page provides an indication of Viacom holdings.


The former CBS network, William Paley and Frank Stanton are discussed in a discrete profile on this site.


Paramount studios and the exhibition arm are discussed in a note page of this profile.


The following paragraphs provide an indication of the group's coverage prior to the CBS spin off on 1 January 2006.

CBS Television Network includes over 200 affiliated stations, with program content ranging (not very far) from Everybody Loves Raymond to 60 Minutes and The Young & the Restless.

The Viacom Television Stations Group consists of 34 television stations reaching 15 of the top 20 television markets in the US, through 16 owned-&-operated CBS stations and 18 UPN-affiliated stations. It includes duopolies in six major markets, with CBS and UPN stations in Philadelphia, Boston, Dallas, Detroit, Miami, and Pittsburgh.

MTV Networks owns/operates basic cable television programming services, including MTV Music Television (342 million households in 140 territories), Nickelodeon (300 million households via localized channels and individual programs), VH1 (8 channels reaching over 93 million households) and "pop culture" TNN (86 million homes in North America. Viacom's BET - Black Entertainment Television - is the largest national cable network serving African Americans (around 65 million households); BET International reaches 30 countries in Europe and 36 countries in Africa.

Paramount Television, offshoot of Paramount Studios, is a major suppliers of television programming for the broadcast, first-run syndication, and cable markets with over 55,000 hours of programming in its library. Production units include Spelling Television.

The group's broadcast and cable television arms - United Paramount Network (UPN), Showtime Networks and Comedy Central - reach over 86% of US television homes through affiliated stations. Programs include Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Star Trek series.

Infinity Broadcasting is one of the largest radio broadcasters in the United States, where it owns and operates more than 180 radio stations. Infinity's outdoor advertising units, Infinity Outdoor and TDI Worldwide, comprise one of the two largest outdoor advertising operations in the US, Canada, Mexico and Europe.

Paramount Pictures was one of the original major studios, with a 2 500 title library that includes Forrest Gump and Mission Impossible.

Famous Players, founded in 1920, is a major Canadian cinema operator, with 884 screens at 102 locations and a joint venture with IMAX. United International Pictures (UIP), in which Viacom has a 33% interest, handles general distribution of Paramount Pictures’ films outside the United States and Canada. United Cinemas International (UCI), a joint venture between Viacom and Vivendi's Universal, operates approximately 868 screens in 104 theaters in the UK, Eire, Germany, Austria, Spain, Japan, Italy, Portugal, Poland, Argentina, Brazil, and Panama. It is one of the largest operators of multiplex theaters outside the United States.

Famous Music Publishing is one of the top ten music publishers in the United States, with a catalog of over 100 000 works that include contemporary music and film scores. Viacom Consumer Products licenses on behalf of Paramount Pictures, Paramount Television, Viacom Productions, Spelling Television and third-parties. CBS Enterprises provides domestic and international film and television program distribution services, including syndication of Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy! and The Oprah Winfrey Show. Paramount Home Entertainment distributes videos and DVDs of theatrical releases from Paramount Pictures, Paramount Classics, Nickelodeon Movies, MTV Films and non-theatrical releases.

Blockbuster - unloaded in 2004 through a tax-free split with Viacom shareholders - was the world's leading renter of videos and video games with over 7,700 stores in the United States and 26 other countries as of 2003. It boasted that over 3 million customers visit a Blockbuster store each day.

Simon & Schuster publishes more than 2,100 titles annually under 38 trade, mass market, children's and new media imprints.

Paramount Parks is one of the largest theme park operators, garnering around 13 million visitors annually at its five North American parks.


Ken Auletta's disappointing collection of profiles in his The Highwaymen - Warriors of the Information Superhighway (New York: Random 1997) includes Viacom czar Sumner Redstone. Many readers will get more value from Michael J Wolf's The Entertainment Economy (New York: Times 1999).

Redstone's autobiographical A Passion To Win (New York: Simon & Schuster 2001) is thin, leading the Financial Times to speculate "whether Mr Redstone simply has nothing much to say or wants to keep his thoughts, passions and fears private". Michael Wolff in The Autumn of the Moguls (New York: HarperCollins 2003) more tartly dismissed Redstone as

"a vainglorious, old-school egomaniac who has an operatic personal life that has largely been kept out of the media, undoubtedly because he controls so much of it"

Bruce Wasserstein's Big Deal (New York: Warner 1998) is a useful introduction to the business of assembling and disassembling the US media empires. Wasserstein is a high-profile merchant banker who acquired New York magazine in 2003.

The two definitive studies of CBS in the sixties and eighties are David Halberstam's classic The Powers That Be (New York: Knopf 79) and Auletta's Three Blind Mice: How The Television Networks Lost Their Way (New York: Random House 1991).

The separate CBS page points to studies of William Paley and CBS, of which the best is probably Lewis Paper's Empire: William S Paley & The Making of CBS (New York: St Martins 1987). Lynn Hinds' Broadcasting the Local News: The Early History of Pittsburgh's KDKA-TV (University Park: Pennsylvania State Uni Press 1995) offers a perspective on broadcasting's early history.

For Blockbuster, the cash cow that allowed the acquisition of many of the goodies, see Gail Degeorge's gushy The Making of a Blockbuster: How Wayne Huizenga Built a Sports and Entertainment Empire from Trash, Grit and Videotape (New York: Wiley 1995).

Andrew Goodwin's Dancing in the Distraction Factory: Music Television & Popular Culture (Minneapolis: Uni of Minnesota Press 1992) and Jack Banks' Monopoly Television: MTV's Quest to Control the Music (Boulder: Westview 1996) are suggestive.

For Paramount see Bernard Dick's Engulfed: The Death of Paramount Pictures and the Birth of Corporate Hollywood (Lexington: Uni Press of Kentucky 2001).

For Simon & Schuster see Turning the pages: an insider's story of Simon & Schuster, 1924-1984 (New York: Macmillan 1984) by Peter Schwed.