Data Sheet—Thursday, September 22, 2016

By Heather Clancy
September 22, 2016

Apart from companies filing for bankruptcy or acquiring others who are already bankrupt, the media sector doesn’t usually have a lot of drama to it. But for almost a year now, the soap opera at Viacom has been a fascinating departure from that trend.

In the latest development, Viacom said that interim CEO Tom Dooley—who was appointed just a few weeks ago, after longtime chief executive Philippe Dauman stepped down—will be leaving the company.

Viacom also reduced its earnings outlook for the current quarter, cut its dividend in half, and put a rumored deal to sell a stake in its Paramount movie studio on ice.

At any normal company, those would be massive developments, but for Viacom they are barely enough to make headlines, compared with some of what has been happening at the company recently.

The previously sleepy conglomerate—which owns properties like Nickelodeon and BET—exploded into life earlier this year, as 93-year-old billionaire and controlling shareholder Sumner Redstone seemed to be taking a more active interest in the goings on at his entertainment business.

In quick succession, Redstone’s daughter Shari voted against Dauman becoming chairman, Redstone himself expressed a lack of confidence in the man he formerly called “one of the smartest men I know,” and then he removed Dauman from the board of the trust that will control Redstone’s $40 billion stake in both Viacom and CBS after his death.

Not surprisingly, Dauman didn’t last long after these moves, despite his protests that Redstone was being manipulated by his daughter. And now Viacom is once again rudderless, with slumping earnings and a proposed sale of Paramount no longer on the cards. What does the future hold?

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Mathew Ingram is a senior writer at Fortune. Email him. Share this essay.


BITS AND BYTES

American Airlines plans a big cloud migration. The airline intends to move its customer website, which supported 1.2 million visitors daily over the summer, and its booking systems out of its own data center so they can better handle unpredictable traffic surges. It hasn’t decided which cloud company will win that business but Amazon Web Services, IBM, and Microsoft are vying for it. (Wall Street Journal)

Amazon and Google may challenge Microsoft on corporate servers. The two cloud computing giants are developing data storage services that would work within a company’s own data center, reports The Information. Such a move would enable them to offer both public and private cloud services, which has been one of Microsoft’s key differentiators. (FortuneThe Information)

Apple seeks outside help for its car project. Unconfirmed reports suggest the tech giant has held talks with British car maker McLaren Technology Group and electric vehicle company Lit Motors to build up its automotive expertise. Apple recently cut “several dozen” employees working on its secretive project. (Wall Street Journal, New York Times)

Yahoo may be ready to confirm huge data breach. Several months ago, the Internet giant disclosed it was investigating claims by hackers who said they had breached more than 200 million user accounts. The revelation could result in unforeseen liability headaches for Yahoo’s buyer Verizon, as the $4.8 billion deal winds its way through regulatory approvals. (Recode)

Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan pledge $3 billion to disease research tech. One big focus of the couple’s foundation will be machine learning software, which could aid tasks such as analyzing large databases of cancer genomes or help create chips to diagnose any infectious disease. The first $600 million of that money is going to Biohub, run by engineers and scientist from Stanford and several University of California campuses. (New York Times, Wall Street Journal)

Ad-tech company shines in IPO. The Trade Desk, which sells software that helps advertisers and agencies automate ad purchases using reams of data, leapt 67% during its trading debut Wednesday. (Wall Street Journal)


THE DOWNLOAD

Meet the startup founders driving GM’s future. In 2013, when Cruise Automation launched, self-driving cars felt like a sci-fi research project. “People told me, ‘You’re crazy. You’re an idiot. It will take 10 years and $100 million,’” CEO Kyle Vogt remembers.

So he devised a system to retrofit any car with partial autonomy (similar to Tesla’s Autopilot today) with a $10,000 kit. But in 2015, as interest in self-driving tech heated up, Cruise switched gears to a more audacious goal: building software for fully autonomous vehicles. For competi­tive reasons Cruise won’t say much about what its software does, but in general such software translates information from GPS and a car’s cameras and sensors into data the car can use to self-navigate.

Read more about what drives Vogt and Cruise co-founder Daniel Kan, who are both part of Fortune’s latest 40 Under 40 ranking of the most influential young people in business. See the full list here.



ONE MORE THING

Why Accenture rewards risk takers. As a college junior, Julie Sweet relocated to China so she could learn the language locally even though studying Japanese was the safer choice. As CEO of $14 billion Accenture North America she’s still pushing the envelope, with unusual employee benefits such as 40 hours of subsidized back-up care. Hear more about her leadership philosophy on Fortune‘s latest Unfiltered podcast. (Fortune)


This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Heather Clancy.

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