CBS and Viacom moved one step closer to a highly anticipated reunification after the companies agreed upon an executive structure, the latest signal that the two media conglomerates, controlled by the Redstone family, were heading toward a new merger.
The agreement remains fluid, according to people familiar with the situation, but calls for Viacom CEO Bob Bakish to take the reins of a combined Viacom and CBS, with Joe Ianniello, acting CEO of CBS Corp. being offered a position overseeing all of the CBS-branded assets at a newly merged concern. Christina Spade, CBS’ chief financial officer, could become the CFO of the new company, these people said.
The two companies have been grappling with these details for weeks, trying to determine a final structure that would keep several top executives in place. Wade Davis, the CFO of Viacom who holds larger responsibilities is likely to depart as the companies are contemplating not having a chief operating officer role.
A CBS representative declined to comment and a Viacom spokesman could not be reached for immediate comment.
The Wall Street Journal previously reported that the two companies had reached consensus on top management.
Combining CBS and Viacom has been a longtime goal of Shari Redstone, who serves on both companies’ boards and guides National Amusements, the movie-exhibition company that is the controlling investor in both Viacom and CBS. In an era when big technology companies have been scooping up content outlets, and in the wake of the recent acquisition by Walt Disney of a good chunk of the former 21st Century Fox, CBS and Viacom are smaller entities. Combining the two would create a broader conglomerate that would likely enjoy more leverage with cable and satellite distributors as well as advertisers, and could also boost recent efforts by each company to move more aggressively into streaming video and content production.
Bakish, a longtime Viacom executive who has more experience dealing with the company’s international operations, is seen as a favorite of Redstone. Since he took the reins at Viacom in December of 2016, he has worked to focus the company on turning around its listing Paramount movie business, refining the programming strategy of a large number of cable outlets, and ramping up content production for other concerns. Since Bakish took over, Viacom has begun producing a “Jack Ryan” series for Amazon Prime and a short-form video series based on “The Real World” for Facebook.
Ianniello, however, is seen as an expert in managing relations with distributors as well as in the financial operations of CBS. During his time as acting CEO, Ianniello has helped overhaul CBS News and moved the company to examine its relations with Nielsen and other partners. CBS is in the midst of a carriage battle with AT&T that has resulted in a blackout of its programming on DirecTV and U-Verse.
Shares of both companies have risen on anticipation a merger would proceed. Redstone has pressed the companies to consider a tie-up in the recent past, but to not much avail. CBS and Viacom were separated by Sumner Redstone in 2006 in the belief both would grow more quickly as smaller entities. In hindsight, however, the companies lost heft while much of the sector consolidated. “We have long believed that the initial separation of these companies made zero sense,” said Michael Nathanson, an independent media analyst, in a July research note.