Sumner Redstone 'Pokes' Facebook, Murdoch

Head of Viacom, CBS Speaks Out at Boston University Event

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LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- Even as a less-than-flattering portrait in the current issue of Vanity Fair suggests his relevance is waning, Sumner Redstone, controlling shareholder of Paramount, Viacom, and CBS, proved he's still got fire in his belly at an event billed as a "Conversation" with Boston University President Robert Brown, held Tuesday night on the Paramount lot.
Sumner Redstone
Sumner Redstone Credit: AP

Boston University organized the event as part of its "BU in L.A." internship program. Mr. Redstone is a former professor at the university's School of Law, and has bankrolled its annual Redstone Film Festival.

Home-turf advantage
Mr. Redstone touted his brand-building prowess by listing every company in parent company National Amusement's portfolio, then took advantage of home-turf advantage to unapologetically jab his competition: "We in the industry are working to tame the threat to our content ... the unauthorized distribution of content on services such as YouTube -- and you know how Viacom feels about YouTube."

He also boasted that Viacom's "internet portfolio ... of 300-plus authorized websites ... engages and reaches more visitors per month than any entertainment company in the world. Some 92 million worldwide ... that's double Facebook's user base."

Later, lauding the size of his companies' coffers, Mr. Redstone offered an observation that is likely to annoy Writer's Guild of America members, currently on strike over a disagreement over the size of residuals they should be paid for DVD and internet distribution. "Everyone seems transfixed by the riches that they promise, although interestingly I must tell you they're a very small part of the revenue of Viacom, CBS and other media. Great growth potential, but not really here yet."

But he also applauded the collaborative process needed to produce good content. Mr. Redstone recognized that "the bright side -- the potential for new revenue streams -- can be realized through collaboration. Writers and producers will agree on that. ... Ideas are free. But the exact expression of those ideas represents intellectual labor, and the fruits of that labor ... have value, and they have to be protected."

'Ask Murdoch'
He did give an indication of what he thinks about others' efforts at empire building. When an audience member inquired about the future of print media within his orbit, he suggested to "ask [Rupert] Murdoch about that."

Mr. Redstone also displayed a markedly progressive stance -- especially for a member of the "old guard" -- on another hot topic: diversity. He pounded the podium more times during that section of his speech than any other, decrying censorship to declare without equivocation, "When you promote diversity, and tolerance, and open-mindedness, the opinions expressed will inevitably converge in the truth as the True North of our collective moral compass as a society."
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