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Succession battles continue to be ‘a huge issue’ in legacy media, author explains

James Stewart, author of “Unscripted: The Epic Battle for a Media Empire and the Redstone Family Legacy” joins Yahoo Finance Live to talk about succession battles at the largest legacy media companies.

Video transcript

DAVE BRIGGS: It's an incredible read pivoting to today's media landscape. Is there any common thread between this story and Rupert Murdoch and the succession there and News Corp and the merger, which has now been called off?

JAMES STEWART: Well, this book has been compared to the TV series "Succession." And having been watching it and I love it, it is clearly an amalgam of material taken from the Murdoch family, some taken from Sumner Redstone. But for some reason, in these big media companies, in particularly, succession is a huge issue. I mean, it's cropped up at Disney just recently. Look, they got rid of the chief executive. They had to bring Iger back.

The Murdoch family is struggling to figure out how to do that. The unbelievable battle that went on here at Paramount Global, there does seem to be something about the spotlight that is on these media companies. And maybe it's just the sheer-- the glamor, the power, the fun, whatever people think it is. Nobody wants to give these up once they're in the leadership positions.

On the other hand, if you think running one of these companies is going to make you happy or making the billions that Sumner Redstone did, this is a case study in how immense wealth does not bring happiness or peace of mind.

DAVE BRIGGS: Yeah, no, thanks.


ALLIE CANAL: Yeah, and you mentioned Disney and Bob Iger what do you think will be key in that succession plan in order for it to not go horribly wrong like the last time?

JAMES STEWART: Well, he said he's leaving in two years.

ALLIE CANAL: Allegedly.


ALLIE CANAL: We'll see.

JAMES STEWART: And I have to say that I don't know that there are many people that take that strictly at face value because it's two years isn't very long. And that's a massive company. If he hadn't groomed a successor before, it may take longer than two years. There are some talented people working there, but no obvious candidate to step in as soon as two years. And

I mean, I tip my hat to Iger. He's a master of communication. Wall Street loves him. Already, the stock has gone up quite a bit. He managed to stand down the latest proxy challenge from Nelson Peltz. So it'll be really interesting to see what he can do there. But again, Disney, Paramount Global, even Netflix and Amazon, they're all facing the same fundamental issues, which is streaming so far has not proven to be a profitable business, except for the people making the streaming content.

DAVE BRIGGS: Yeah, that's a difficult road. So he says he's going to-- Iger-- stay two years. Elon Musk now says he's going to stay at least through the end of this year at Twitter. He sat with Rupert Murdoch at the Super Bowl, if there's a common thread there. How do you think that story plays itself out at Twitter? Does anyone want to work for Elon?

JAMES STEWART: Well, I will say this for Elon at Twitter. At least it has calmed down after the unbelievable chaos that was running rampant there. I just-- look, I'm not going to count the Musk out. The previous formula was not really working there. And although he's taken some really drastic measures, chopping the personnel, he is getting the costs down. The advertisers have fled, but will they come back? I wouldn't want to bet against him.

DAVE BRIGGS: And you hear that a lot. He's done pretty well with Tesla and with SpaceX and most other things he's touched. Allie Canal, thank you. James Stewart. The book is "Unscripted." Check it out, some incredible storytelling. Great to see you, sir. Thank you.