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Viacom Expands Sarah Levy’s Role, Sparking Questions Over Nickelodeon

Viacom has expanded the role of Sarah Levy, the chief operating officer of its entertainment-focused media outlets, giving her oversight of some functions at Nickelodeon and BET – a move that further solidifies her role as one of the company’s top employees.

Levy, who reports directly to Viacom CEO Bob Bakish,  is a 20-plus-year veteran of the company. In January of last year, she was named chief operating officer of the company’s global entertainment group, which comprises MTV, Comedy Central, VH1, Spike, CMT, TV Land, Logo and Viacom International Media Networks. Now she is adding Nickelodeon and BET to her portfolio. Levy has responsibility for everything from business development to research and production management and also advises on legal affairs, human resources and content distribution.

But that move has raised speculation about leadership at Nickelodeon, one of Viacom’s most biggest and most important units. Cyma Zarghami, who got her start at the Nickelodeon kids’ empire as a scheduling clerk in 1985 and now runs its operations, is nearing the end of her current contract, according to people familiar with the situation. The Wall Street Journal Tuesday reported that people close to Zarghami and Viacom aren’t certain she will stay at the company beyond the terms of her current employment agreement. A Nickelodeon spokesman referred a query to Viacom, which declined to make executives available for comment.

Zarghami supervises an empire that is of top importance to the New York entertainment conglomerate. Its networks, which include Nickelodeon and Nick Jr., have served as relative bright spots for the company, which has worked for several seasons to boost the fortunes of cable perennials like MTV, Comedy Central and BET. Zarghami had, under previous leadership,also been given oversight of CMT and TV Land, but those operations were reassigned after Bakish took up his role in 2016.

Viacom is expected to release an earnings report later this week. Earlier Tuesday, it was reported that Viacom expected to cut fewer than 100 of its 10,000 employees.

The company recently said that it had formed a committee to explore a new merger with CBS Corp. Both entertainment companies are controlled by the Redstone family’s National Amusements Inc. CBS also said it had formed a similar committee. Shari Redstone, who leads the Redstone family’s interest in both corporations, is believed to want to find ways to gain scale in the media sector as rivals like Time Warner pursue a merger with AT&T and with Walt Disney Co. working to acquire the bulk of the operations of 21st Century Fox.

 

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