Is Paramount’s potential deal to sell Showtime really dead? Not if you talk to a wistful corner of the media investor community, which readily perked up when the Journal reported last week that Paramount Global owner Shari Redstone had rebuffed several offers for Showtime—including a recent $3 billion-plus bid from former top executive David Nevins and the private equity group General Atlantic. To many, that’s a no-brainer deal for a struggling unit of a company that’s worth only $15 billion in total and is facing a cratering cable television business. I’m told that a couple decent-sized Paramount shareholders have let management know that they think offloading Showtime at that price makes perfect sense. Paramount declined to comment.
To be clear, there have been no new talks or outreach between Paramount and the Nevins group this week, despite rumors around town to the contrary. (Nevins declined to comment, as well.) And that ship potentially sailed last month when Paramount announced its dismantling—sorry, integration—of Showtime into Paramount+, with 120 layoffs and the new “Paramount+ with Showtime” branding, all managed under franchise-focused TV executive Chris McCarthy. The company did its diligence on the offer and concluded that while $3 billion in P.E. cash would more than pay for Shari’s Patriots season tickets, the new combination will save $300 million to $400 million a year, according to C.E.O. Bob Bakish, while allowing Par+ to add all those Showtime shows to its premium tier and raise its price $2 to $12 a month. “If we were to divest the asset, it would have to create more value than our own operating plan,” Bakish said when asked about the offers on an earnings call by analyst Rich Greenfield. A stronger all-audience service, cost cuts, and higher recurring revenue is more beneficial to the company than a one-time cash infusion, albeit a large one, the thinking goes.
But is it really? I’d love to see the actual math supporting that conclusion, as would a number of analysts I spoke to this week. “Given the headwinds facing linear TV and the multichannel bundle, selling Showtime for $3 billion-plus would be a big win for Paramount,” Greenfield told me today. “If there is still interest, we suspect Paramount investors would applaud a transaction.” I’ll bet. Paramount’s stock dropped after the Journal report, though it recovered later in the week.