NEW YORK – Who's sluggish now? With the official split of Viacom Inc.'s fast-moving MTV Networks and Paramount film studios from CBS Corp. (CBS) completed on Tuesday, CBS stock jumped 5 percent even as shares of the newly independent Viacom Inc. (VIAB) were flat.
CBS now once and for all hopes to shed its reputation, cemented by years of trailing television ratings and, at one time, the media industry's oldest audience, and sees growth in finding new outlets for its vast library of shows.
"People are realizing that there's a lot of value in CBS at the current price," Chris Marangi, an analyst at Gabelli & Co., an affiliate of which owns about 10 million shares of Viacom.
Still, the split of CBS and Viacom, first announced last June, comes as viewers are being lured away from traditional media by the Internet, video games and portable media players such as Apple's iPod digital music and video player.
These trends show no signs of abating, analysts say, and raise big questions about the future of the CBS TV, radio and outdoor advertising enterprise along with the rest of traditional media.
CBS chief executive Leslie Moonves sees opportunities where critics see obstacles.
"You're not going to see us sitting on our heels and become a utility company," told Reuters in a phone interview on Tuesday.
CBS's top priorities this year will be to fend off challengers on television while seeking new revenue from distributors for its broadcasts, and use new technology to mine new categories of viewers.
Media industry peers are eyeing the results of the split closely as a test of the ongoing dismantling of media conglomerates forged through several decades of mergers and acquisitions.
For example, Time Warner Inc. (TWX), the world's largest media company, is fending off heavy pressure from activist shareholder Carl Icahn to consider breaking itself apart.
CBS and the new Viacom aim to appeal to different classes of shareholders, with those seeking dividends and who are attracted to higher cash flows drawn to CBS, the company has said.
Early Wall Street sentiment appeared positive. Prudential Securities initiated coverage of CBS with a $30 price target and an "overweight" or buy rating, citing a "compelling valuation."
Gabelli's Marangi said CBS is a bargain as it trades at an enterprise value of eight times its 2006 earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization, and below the big media peers' average of about 10, a common measure of media company value, as they usually carry high levels of debt.
The new Viacom was trading at an enterprise value of 11.
Some optimism over CBS' prospects comes from Moonves' plan to explore sending CBS-owned properties to just about any distribution medium available, a sentiment he reaffirmed on Tuesday.
"Anybody that wants our content, we'll make deals with them," Moonves said.
The company signed a deal in November with top U.S. cable operator Comcast Corp. (CMCSA) to offer its shows on video-on-demand for 99 cents per episode.
CBS shares rose 70 cents, or 2.75 percent, to $26.20; the new Viacom shares rose 44 cents, or 1.07 percent, to $41.59 on the New York Stock Exchange.