CBS’ search for a chief executive to succeed Leslie Moonves has narrowed to a short list that includes – among others – acting CEO Joe Ianniello and Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner, who is a CBS Corp. board member, according to people familiar with the matter.
Ianniello is seen as having a potential edge because of his deep familiarity with the company. He’s also spent the past five months in the interim position and has made a number of big personnel moves that were generally well received internally and externally — notably the promotion of Susan Zirinsky to head CBS News and the elevation of Showtime chief David Nevins to chief content officer.
Goldner has spent the past 11 years as CEO of the Rhode Island-based toymaker. He’s been a CBS board member since September. During his time at Hasbro, he has steered the company into entertainment, including a short-lived joint venture kids-cable network with Discovery. Hasbro’s properties include My Little Pony and the Transformers, both of which have become sizable content businesses.
Former Disney COO Tom Staggs had emerged as a strong early candidate, but that seems to have cooled in recent weeks. Another Disney alum, former TV chief Anne Sweeney, was also approached in the search process but is not believed to have stayed in the mix. Former Time Warner and Turner executive John Martin has stayed on the short list.
A CBS spokesman declined to comment as did a representative for National Amusements Inc., the company’s controlling shareholder.
Ianniello’s role as the primary architect of CBS’ business strategy for the past 12 years is also a plus because CBS is undoubtedly heading into a period of M&A. It’s widely expected that Shari Redstone, who leads National Amusements,, will eventually push to re-join the company with its sibling Viacom, also controlled by NAI, perhaps as a first step to a larger and more transformative transaction. As part of a settlement struck with CBS last year, however, NAI cannot raise such an issue for two years.
The prospect of Ianniello taking the top job seemed remote last September in the immediate aftermath of the Moonves scandal. CBS’ longtime chief financial officer and later chief operating officer had worked elbow-to-elbow with Moonves since CBS was spun out of Viacom in 2006. After Redstone and Moonves went to war for control of CBS last spring — when CBS took a hail-mary shot as a means of diluting Redstone’s voting interest — the presumption was that the bitterness would be too great. Ianniello was on record in the legal fight that ensued as being a champion of the lawsuit strategy.
Since then, however, Ianniello is said to have developed a good rapport with Redstone. The conventional wisdom inside CBS is that the board will have to find a strong enough candidate to be a better option than the executive who knows the company and its people well.
Goldner was one of six new board members appointed last September after Redstone’s National Amusements settled the legal battle with CBS and forced Moonves out after two exposes in the New Yorker featured allegations from multiple women accounts of sexual misconduct, dating back decades. Bloomberg reported Wednesday that Goldner was advancing along with Ianniello in the search process.
In the wake of the Moonves shakeup, Redstone is said to be particularly focused on a CEO with the skills to build a strong corporate culture at CBS. Viacom, the company that nearly three years ago had a similar management and board shakeup at Redstone’s direction, has invested significant resources in efforts to reinvigorate a culture of creativity and innovation at the home of MTV, Nickelodeon and Paramount Pictures.