So, what will Viacom look like now? That was the biggest question in cable circles following the ouster of cable vet Tom Freston. Will many of his sr managers follow him out the door? Probably. Will digital trump cable in the business plan? Possibly. Is there no end to Sumner Redstone’s power? Apparently not. Gary Klein, a partner for NY-based exec search firm Christian & Timbers suggested the shakeup harkens back to the split of CBS and Viacom. "The strategic purpose behind the split was for Viacom to grow aggressively," he said. "That simply has not happened. Redstone moves very quickly. He has expectations—either you meet them or you’re out." On a call with analysts, Redstone said the board felt Viacom lacked momentum and that communication with Wall St had become "deficient." Freston put a "cable guy" stamp on Viacom, having served as chmn/CEO of MTV Networks since 1987 and as one of the founding members that launched MTV (he was inducted into the Cable Center’s Hall of Fame last year). Reaction to the news Tues was surprise, from investors to fellow programmers, with not even a whisper of the shakeup hitting the cocktail circuit. Merrill Lynch promptly downgraded Viacom to "neutral" from "buy," calling Freston "a key figure in building [MTV] into one of the premier entertainment franchises globally." Merrill’s note to clients went on to question newly named pres/CEO Philippe Dauman and chief admin officer Thomas Dooley’s lack of experience in running a major entertainment company. Dauman and Dooley are both members of Viacom’s board and head DND Capital Partners, a private equity firm specializing in media and telecom. UBS’ Aryeh Bourkoff called the changes a near-term negative, saying Viacom "loses a creative force in Freston who has been instrumental in building the company’s assets, brands and talent." However, Bourkoff said the change could be positive longer term if it improves financial discipline. Citigroup was perhaps the most optimistic, calling the shakeup a "mild positive" and Freston’s track record "mixed." Did We Miss the Sign? Tom’s move out of Viacom— probably reluctant but with a sense of relief—truly ends an era that he helped start. But unlike Mel Karmazin’s 2004 departure, which spurred speculation for years, Freston’s resignation was a surprise. In hindsight, perhaps there was a tiny clue. Last week, during the noisy brouhaha between Redstone and Tom Cruise forces, Freston’s absence from statements issued every which way almost went un-noticed. We’ll miss Tom… one of the best. – PSM

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