Sumner Redstone isn't heard from during Viacom earnings call

Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone, who usually speaks during earnings calls, listened but did not comment today

Billionaire Sumner Redstone, in declining health, did not participate in Viacom Inc.'s earnings call with Wall Street analysts on Thursday.

Viacom's quarterly conference calls for years have typically opened with Redstone giving a brief but upbeat assessment of business results -- even when the company missed its mark. Viacom owns Comedy Central, MTV, BET, Nickelodeon and Paramount Pictures in Los Angeles.

Redstone also would routinely lavish praise on Viacom's chief executive, Philippe Dauman, predictably calling him "my wise friend."

On Thursday, however, Viacom's head of investor relations, James Bombassei, launched the call, saying: "Good morning everyone, and thank you for joining us. Listening from Los Angeles is our chairman, Sumner Redstone."

Redstone will be 92 in May. He has been in deteriorating health, with walking and other issues of mobility becoming increasingly difficult for him in recent years.

Redstone has long dealt with medical issues from being burned in a Boston hotel fire in 1979, which left him badly scarred. 

Redstone controls 79% of Viacom shares and takes great pride in the company, which he built into a media juggernaut over the last three decades. He has long wanted to be part of the calls.

But during Viacom's earnings call in November, Redstone sounded frail, raising concerns about his health.

Viacom's first-fiscal quarter results largely met analyst expectations, although domestic advertising revenue dropped 6% amid declining ratings at the company's key television networks.

For the quarter ended Dec. 31, profit excluding certain items came in at $1.29 a share, just beating analyst estimates of $1.28 a share. Viacom delivered earnings of $500 million for the quarter, down from $547 million a year earlier.

Revenue increased 5% to $3.34 billion, driven by programming fee increases.

Media networks' revenue rose 4% to $2.7 billion. Revenue at Paramount Pictures increased 6% to $720 million, helped by the muscular performance of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" and the movie "Interstellar."

During the call, Dauman announced that Nickelodeon was developing a subscription service to make its children's programming available to consumers on tablets and other digital devices. The move follows a trend by HBO, CBS and others to offer its programming directly to consumers.

Dauman did not give details on the effort, but emphasized that the company was working with its partners, the pay-TV distributors that carry Viacom programming.

Viacom shares opened down and were trading at about $66 early on Nasdaq. Its shares are down more than 15% since last year.

Twitter: @MegJamesLAT

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