ViacomCBS Shakes Up Creative Executive Ranks Ahead of Merger

Chris McCarthy and Kent Alterman Split - H Getty 2019
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Chris McCarthy, David Nevins, Brian Robbins and Marc DeBevoise add new responsibilities, while Kent Alterman and Sarah Levy prepare to depart after the merger.

ViacomCBS continues to shake up its executive ranks ahead of its expected merger next month. 

The company is expanding the oversight of Chris McCarthy, who currently oversees the MTV, VH1, Logo and CMT networks. McCarthy will add oversight of Comedy Central, Paramount Network, TV Land and Smithsonian Channel in the shakeup, according to a source familiar with the matter.

The Wall Street Journal first reported the news.

David Nevins, chief creative officer of CBS and CEO of Showtime Networks, will add oversight of BET Networks in the shift. Scott Mills will continue to run BET, but will now report to Nevins. Brian Robbins will continue to oversee Nickelodeon (he was named president of the kids channel a year ago), but will now add oversight of AwesomenessTV. 

Marc DeBevoise, who is CEO for CBS Interactive, will oversee digital operations for the combined company. Kelly Day, who runs Viacom Digital Studios, will report to DeBevoise, though Pluto TV CEO Tom Ryan will continue to report to Bob Bakish, who will be CEO of the combined company.

Two senior executives will be leaving the company: Kent Alterman, who currently leads Comedy Central, Paramount Network and TV Land, and Sarah Levy, who is COO of Viacom Media Networks, will both exit after the merger closes. (Read Alterman's heartfelt memo to his colleagues below.)

McCarthy has been a rising star at Viacom under Bakish. After being promoted to president at MTV, he expanded his purview to include VH1, Logo and CMT, as Viacom continued to centralize oversight of its cable brands. The exec has helped revitalize MTV with a string of revivals of classic unscripted shows to a series of ratings upticks over the past several quarters.

Alterman, meanwhile, was handed Paramount Network — Viacom’s broad-skewing cabler (formerly Spike) — last year. His predecessor, Kevin Kay, was pushed out a year after its rebranding. Comedy Central, under Alterman’s leadership, has seen 10 consecutive quarters of year-over-year share growth.

Alterman and Levy are the latest longtime Viacom executives to depart in recent years. Nickelodeon chief Cyma Zarghami and BET chief executive Debra Lee both exited last year.

Bakish’s larger plan to rejuvenate Viacom was to focus on key brands BET, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon and Paramount Network. All have changed leadership since Bakish arrived at Viacom.

With the Viacom-CBS merger expected to close in December, Nevins will continue his upward rise. The Showtime exec was given oversight of CBS’ entertainment unit following CEO Les Moonves’ ouster and will now oversee BET, which recently launched its own subscription streaming service, BET+. Mills oversees the linear network and streamer, the latter of which is a partnership between Viacom and Tyler Perry.

The shakeup is the latest sign that media giants are laying the groundwork for consolidation amid dwindling linear TV ratings and the explosion of streaming services.

Viacom, pre-CBS merger, consolidated MTV, VH1, Logo and CMT, all under McCarthy, for example, eliminating development and marketing executives in the process as it centralized all operations under McCarthy and the team he built at MTV.

Viacom and CBS set up an integration management office in September and have been announcing a number of executives for the combined company since.

Update: Viacom CEO Bob Bakish released a statement confirming the executive changes Monday morning. “ViacomCBS will be one of the largest premium content creators in the world, with the capacity to produce content for both our own platforms and for others,” he said. “This talented team of content leaders will work together to ensure we realize the full power of our brands, our deep relationships with the creative community and our intellectual property to drive our growth as a combined company.”

Read Kent Alterman's memo to staff below.

Dear Treasured Colleagues,

Some of the most inventive fiction I’ve read comes in the form of farewell emails, so I’ll resist the temptation to be creative and try to be factual and brief. I apologize in advance if I’m not able to deliver on that.

As you have likely heard, I’m leaving my position as head of the Entertainment group. I’m not going to brag about all we’ve accomplished together (another temptation resisted). Instead, I will tell you how grateful I am. We were given a rare opportunity to create and maintain our own culture within the confines of an ever-changing and challenging corporate environment. While some might call me delusional, I contend that our ethos is defined by passion, respect, strong points of view, collaboration and kindness to each other. Dare I call it soulful? Maybe I just did.

We don’t give lip service to these things — we live them. On a daily basis. When I was offered the position of President of Comedy Central a few years ago, I was honestly not sure I wanted to accept. I worried it would take me too far away from the creative process, which is what attracted me to this business in the first place. Instead of fretting about that, I decided to embrace the opportunity and really lean into the leadership aspects of the job. I have been continually stunned by how deeply fulfilling leading this group has been for me. I’ve made smart bets on talented people who always make me appear to be smarter than I am. Together, we have shaped an organization that fills me with immense pride.

I don’t want to turn this into a name-checking email — if you don’t personally know how appreciative I am, then I have failed and I’m sorry. Thank you for being such a stellar group of humans. Thank you for letting me be myself. You have allowed me to take a strong stand on things, for right or wrong. More importantly, you have also allowed me to be transparent about the things I don’t know without feeling diminished or compromised.

I remind you that everything we do is driven by the talent with whom we work. I am forever grateful to all the artists who have chosen to trust us, especially with so many options available in the marketplace. This is something I never take for granted, and I urge you not to either. No matter how risky or uncertain our jobs can feel (and believe me, I’m in touch with that right now), please remember we are dependent on talent, and they are always in a more vulnerable position than we are.

As disruption and cataclysmic change have become the norm in our business, I remind you that change creates anxiety, but it also creates opportunity. How you respond to uncertainty has the potential to help you grow and make you stronger. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Please continue to act in good faith with your colleagues and collaborators. This is what allows you to assume the same in them, fostering trust and a spirit of being in it together.

I’ve been so fortunate to work with all of you and be the steward of great brands. We have managed to create real meaning and relevance in Comedy Central, and Paramount Network is emerging in such an exciting way. These brands are the North Star of everything we do, and I hope their essence will continue to guide you moving forward.

Addressing an email to "Comedy Central_ALL, Paramount Network_ALL and TVLand_All" for the last time fills me with deep sadness and intense joy simultaneously. Or, put another way, the richness of being alive. Being in it with you these past years has been a privilege and honor. I will always be in your debt. If I can repay you along the way, I am always available to be helpful in any way I can.

With love, respect and appreciation, I remain,

Yours truly,