Paramount Global Could Close Sale Of Simon & Schuster By Year End, CFO Says; Company “Open Minded” To Broader Media M&A

Paramount Global is “deep into the marketing process” for publisher Simon & Schuster and can see a path to closing a deal this year, CFO Naveen Chopra said today, putting the first timeframe on a sale.

It’s a “sizable transaction” and “very competitive” with strong interest from strategic and financial buyers, he told the Gabelli Funds media conference in New York. The company has targeted the book business as non-strategic and had initially closed a deal to sell it to Bertelsmann’s Penguin Random House for $2.2 billion. It walked away from that after the Department of Justice sued to block the merger and a federal judge upheld the government’s position.

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The company is looking at selling a majority stake of BET with a number of potential buyers including Tyler Perry and Byron Allen, stepping up. It’s been divesting real estate, selling the CBS Black Rock corporate headquarters in NYC and Television City in LA, and the CBS Broadcast Center on far West 57th Street could be next. Cash inflow from asset sales helps reduce leverage — a goal for Paramount and other media companies – at a time of high investment in complex landscape.

Asked about broader M&A potential, he said, “it’s probably unwise to bet against consolidation” and Par tries to be “thoughtful” about opportunities. “Whether Paramount is a seller of assets or a consolidator of assets, we’ll have to see. But we remain very open-minded to those possibilities.” However, as witnessed by the scuttled publishing deal, the U.S. regulatory climate is pretty tough right now, he noted on the conference sidelines.

Despite its slumping stock, he said Par is working through heavy investment and expansion in streaming towards a shift into profit and free cash flow in 2024. One big step along the way is the new Paramount+ With Showtime debuting later this month, in tandem with a price hike for the combined and rebranded service. The move will save the company at least $700 million annually.

As it retools, Paramount is having trouble getting traction on Wall Street. Its shares are lingering near a 52-week low. The market was taken aback when Paramount announced a dividend cut last month. Its slashing quarterly payouts to 5 cents, so 20 cents, annually — a major drop from about 24 cents a quarter or nearly a buck a year. It said the move would save it $500 million annually.

The current weak ad market isn’t helping. But Chopra stressed again today that advertising is cyclical and will improve. “I think it’s important to think about our balance sheet in the context of what we are doing in the business of building the network of the 21st century.”

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