Viacom Makes "Aggressive" Play to Remake Exec Team Ahead of Merger

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CEO Bob Bakish culls the exec ranks as Wall Street worries about its fortunes.

Viacom and merger partner CBS made a rash of leadership changes Nov. 11 that included naming Chris McCarthy, the chief of MTV, VH1, CMT and Logo, the new president of entertainment and youth brands.

In truth, though, the consolidation of executives, so to speak, has been occurring at Viacom and other conglomerates for a few years now, courtesy a wave of acquisitions as the industry grapples with disruptive digital streamers. And it’s not expected to stop.

In some cases, top executives charged with deciding who goes and who stays are not even safe, such as with Wade Davis, the Viacom CFO who will exit once ViacomCBS is created in December. "There's only so many C-level jobs to go around, and you don't need two of each," notes Mary Ann Halford, a senior adviser with OC&C Strategy Consultants.

Viacom has been steadily streamlining under CEO Bob Bakish. Comedy Central chief Kent Alterman's Nov. 11 exit was preceded by those of Kevin Kay (Paramount Network), Debra Lee (BET), Cyma Zarghami (Nickelodeon), Larry Jones (TV Land) and Brian Philips (CMT).

Now, McCarthy will double the number of networks he oversees, adding Paramount Network, Comedy Central, TV Land and Smithsonian Channel to his purview. "It's like a game of musical chairs," says Halford, "only there were more chairs five years ago than today, and they're not coming back."

Viacom's latest moves confirmed that Jim Gianopulos will stay atop Paramount Pictures as CEO and chairman, while David Nevins, chief creative officer of CBS and CEO of Showtime, will add oversight of BET Networks in the shift. And Marc DeBevoise will become chief digital officer of the combined ViacomCBS and Phil Wiser, chief technology officer at CBS will have that role for ViacomCBS.

And while Viacom said Nov. 8 that it is out of the bidding for the 700-title Miramax library, rumors swirl that after it merges with CBS it will scoop up more content firms to help feed CBS All Access and other digital initiatives.

"It's good to see that ViacomCBS is being aggressive," says analyst Steven Birenberg of Northlake Capital Management. "There is a real concern on Wall Street the company is floundering, so just showing that things are being realigned and 'newco' can hit the ground running is helpful."

This story first appeared in the Nov. 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.