By Jessica Toonkel
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Shari Redstone, a controlling shareholder of Viacom Inc <VIAB.O> and CBS Corp <CBS.N>, never wanted to separate the two media companies 10 years ago, she told attendees of The New York Times DealBook conference on Thursday.
Shari Redstone and her father, Sumner Redstone control Viacom Inc <VIAB.O> and CBS corp <CBS.N> through their privately held movie theater company National Amusements Inc.
Sumner Redstone decided to split the two companies a decade ago. While CBS has grown, Viacom, which owns MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon, has struggled with declining ad sales and ratings. So far this year, CBS's stock is up more than 20 percent while Viacom shares are down nearly 8 percent.
"I was never a great proponent of the split of the two companies," Shari Redstone, who is vice chair of the board of both companies, said.
She added that the path of the two companies could have been different under different leadership, a reference to Viacom's former Chief Executive Officer Philippe Dauman, who was forced to resign in August after losing a battle for control of Viacom with the Redstones.
In September, the Redstones urged CBS and Viacom to explore a merger. Each company has hired banks and set up independent committees to explore a combination.
While Redstone said she supports the merger, she added that both companies "can stand on their own and can be great."
When asked why the Redstones decided to keep Paramount Pictures, which Dauman had tried to sell, Shari Redstone described a vision of turning the studio into a creator of all kinds of content, not just films.
"With the studio of the future you are going to be creating content across multiple platforms for the consumer to engage with," said Redstone, who also runs Advancit Capital, a venture capital firm investing in media and technology companies.
(Reporting by Jessica Toonkel; Editing by Sandra Maler)