Post-Moonves, CBS and Viacom Undergo More Executive Turnover

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Shari Redstone

Changes are coming fast and furious at the companies controlled by Sumner and Shari Redstone, leading Wall Street to presume a merger is inevitable.

Some housecleaning measures at CBS and Viacom, the latest being the departure of a few communications executives and a promotion for Brian Robbins, have rank-and-file workers at both conglomerates feeling a bit woozy.

On Monday, Viacom said Robbins, who had been running Paramount Players, will now run Nickelodeon as its president, while on Friday Viacom vp corporate communications Jeremy Zweig departed and one day earlier at sister company CBS chief communications officer Gil Schwartz announced his retirement.

Changes, in fact, are coming fast and furious at the two companies controlled by Sumner and Shari Redstone, leading Wall Street to presume a merger is inevitable, speculation that shifted into overdrive with the Sept. 9 removal of Leslie Moonves amid accusations of sexual harassment that the former CEO has denied.

There also was regime change two years ago at Viacom when a feud with the Redstones led to the departure of CEO Philippe Dauman. Hence, when Bob Bakish filled that role, his allies were in, while the former’s were on the outs. Four days after Bakish took over in August 2016, for example, Carl Folta stepped down as Viacom’s PR chief and Zweig was seen as one of his lieutenants, so his contract wasn’t renewed after it recently expired.

With Robbins leaving Paramount Players, a search is underway for a new leader there, and staff requirements could change, as they could at Nickelodeon now that Robbins has replaced Cyma Zarghami, who had 30 years with the company and was part of Dauman’s crew.

Beyond the issues of where loyalties are aligned, the Redstones are presumably keen on reuniting CBS and Viacom, undoing their split 13 years ago, a necessary move as consolidation (Walt Disney buying most of 21st Century Fox, AT&T buying time Warner, etc..) alters the entertainment landscape.

Moonves had sued to keep such a re-merger from happening, but investors now believe it will occur circa 2020 and, when it does, staff overlaps and a desire to cut costs will lead to more departures. Indeed, another change at CBS was the Sept. 25 board chairman appointment of Richard Parsons, an expert on mergers and on unwinding previous mistakes, the latter of which he accomplished as the former CEO of AOL Time Warner.

Barton Crockett of B. Riley FBR calculates $1.3 billion in cost synergies over three years should the two companies become one again. “With the ugliest corporate governance problems now behind them, we see Viacom and CBS as next on deck with a reunion of the two sometime in the next two years or less as the most probable outcome,” says Crockett.