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Sumner Redstone's Options and Viacom's Earnings

Viacom Earnings
CNBC.com
Viacom Earnings

Wall Street will hear Viacom's earnings after the bell, but that's not the only reason Chairman Sumner Redstone is in the spotlight. The financial crisis is putting even more pressure on his already strained relationship with daughter Shari as the two battle over control of the family business, National Amusements, and how to handle its $1.6 billion in debt.

Now Redstone is rushing to restructure National Amusements' debt to avoid owing $800 million by the end of the year. This after a margin call forced Redstone to sell $233 million of CBS and Viacom stock last month as they both trade around all time lows.

Even if Redstone can renegotiate the terms of the debt, there's still a chance he'll have to sell some assets. He could sell part of the National Amusements' 1,500 screen theater chain which is run by Shari Redstone: it's estimated to be worth about $700 million.

He could also sell a stake in the National Amusements holding company to an outside investor, which could dilute Redstone's stake without him selling any shares. Or the father-daughter duo could sell National Amusements' interest in videogame maker Midway Games or its stake in WMS Slot Machines.

One option Sumner redstone has said he won't take: he insists he won't sell any more shares of CBS or Viacom stock, and he won't sell the companies straight out. Still, regardless of that reassurance, investors are frustrated with the lack of disclosure about National Amusements debt and how closely that debt is tied to Viacom and CBS stock. The ties of the Redstones' private National Amusements to these companies are particularly important in this environment where both companies are struggling with the advertising industry's downturn.

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  • Viacom reports after the bell and analysts are expecting earnings of 55 cents per share, that's down 16 percent from the year-ago quarter. This would be on revenue of $3.32 billion, up one percent from last year. There shouldn't be too many surprises this afternoon as just last month the company cut its outlook for the quarter and the full year. But Wall Street is sure to ask lots of questions about Redstone's debt issues on the post-earnings conference call this afternoon. When Redstone does take care of this issue, Viacom and CBS investors will likely breathe a big sigh of relief.

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    • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.