Viacom is one of America’s largest media conglomerates. It owns the CBS and UPN broadcast networks, Simon & Schuster publishing, Paramount Studios, and more than 200 radio and television stations, including many in major markets. It also controls a sizeable share of the talk radio business.
Among Viacom’s many media holdings on cable television are VH1 and MTV. It owns Nickelodeon and Noggin for children, Black Entertainment Television (BET), Showtime, the Movie Channel, Spike TV for men (formerly TNN), Comedy Central, and Country Music Television (CMT).
Most of these outlets favor the Democratic Party. MTV sponsored the liberal “Rock the Vote” voter-registration drive. In 2004 CMT continued to promote the left activist band the Dixie Chicks as they toured to raise money for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry; by contrast, the network refused to air a patriotic song by the Charlie Daniels Band. Each weeknight Comedy Central airs The Daily Show, a popular satiric newscast anchored by comic Jon Stewart, who interviews usually progressive political guests and ridicules conservatives and Republicans.
Viacom also owns Blockbuster Video, Outdoor Systems billboards, the Star Trek franchise via Paramount Studios, and King World distributors. Viacom is also a part-owner of the Sundance Channel, MarketWatch.com, and United Cinemas theatres.
Viacom was born out of CBS Films. Renamed Viacom International in 1971, it became an independent company two years later because of new Federal Communications Commission rules that prohibited CBS from owning syndication companies. During the 1970s and 1980s Viacom grew wealthy from recycling, via syndication, already-produced programs, accumulating enough money to acquire its own original parent company CBS in 2000.
One hallmark of Viacom management has been the promotion of political ideology so leftward that one critic described the company’s executives as “Viacommies.” In February 2001 two Viacom executives — the President and Chief Executive Officer of CBS Les Moonves and CEO of MTV Tom Freston — were in Havana for a private dinner and meeting with Communist dictator Fidel Castro.
Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone, who turned 70 in 2004, has described himself as a “liberal Democrat” and has been a major financial contributor to Democrats, as are eight other members of Viacom’s Board of Directors. (Two Viacom Board members served in President Bill Clinton‘s Cabinet.)
In July 2004 Redstone and Viacom’s Board named Tom Freston and Les Moonves as Viacom’s new Co-Presidents and Co-Chief Operating Officers.
In November 2004 Viacom agreed to pay $3.5 million in fines to settle several cases of radio and television indecency with the FCC. In addition to the 2004 Super Bowl halftime breast-baring by Janet Jackson, another case involved the language of the corporation’s “shock jock” Howard Stern. A third stemmed from a program by then-Viacom radio personalities Opie and Anthony, who gave graphic details of what they claimed was a couple having sex inside Manhattan’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral.