Redstone faulted Biondi's hands-off, decentralized approach as inappropriate to run a swift-footed business. His detail-oriented management of the National Amusements Inc. theater chain, which controls 61% of Viacom's voting stock, is legendary. He still gets box-office reports on Sunday nights, calls theater managers himself and personally signs the checks that studios split with exhibitors.
Operating executives are uncertain whether Redstone will bring that level of engagement to each business, and they wonder how his style will change Viacom.
"Divisions that are performing well will continue to operate as they have," Dooley said. "But if people are off-track, intervention will happen sooner rather than later."
Which areas will Redstone respond to first? Dooley said he will concentrate on improving results at the studio, whose slate of movies last year was disappointing, and on dispelling WallWall Street's worries about the long-term growth of video rentals and, therefore, Blockbuster. Signing strategic alliances in Europe has moved to the top of the list.
"I wouldn't be surprised if he hopped on a plane in a couple of days," Dooley said. "As content owners, we have to worry that distributors like BSkyB in Europe are becoming the gatekeepers and controlling the prices we can get for our product. We have to move to establish relationships with other content providers to develop alternative platforms so that doesn't happen."
(BSkyB is the satellite television business owned by Murdoch that has a lock on 2 million viewers in England.)
While media owners such as Murdoch are inclined to overpay to get deals done fast and shut competitors out of the market, Viacom, according to company executives, has been slower to react, spending time studying various options. Redstone wants to cut the red tape.
But Redstone, sources in the company say, is not likely to be as intrusive a boss as Murdoch, which they say could minimize the tensions and employee turnover that have hurt Fox.
"If Murdoch gets interested in StarTV, he moves to Hong Kong for three months and runs it," said one source. "Sumner is not like that; he has a more human side."
As to worries about Redstone's health and the possibility that he could hang on past his effectiveness, as such legends as MCA's Lew Wasserman have been accused of:
"He will outlive all of us and run this company from the grave," said Freston. "He's more energetic than when I met him eight years ago; he's turned on by the businesses."
* THE BIZ: Biondi firing reflects higher pressure for results. D4