CBS Corp. said it would suspend the months-long search it has conducted for a new leader for the company since the departure of Leslie Moonves and would instead extend the tenure of its acting chief, Joseph Ianniello, through the end of 2019.
“Joe has demonstrated exceptional leadership during this time of unprecedented transition at CBS. He steadied the ship with some key appointments and a commitment to cultural change, and steered it forward by focusing CBS’ operations around its growing direct-to-consumer strategy,” the company’s board of directors said in a statement. “We are very pleased to recognize Joe’s talents and efforts with this extension, and we look forward to all that he’ll continue to do to build on CBS’ remarkable momentum.”
The board’s decision to cease its search for a different successor to Moonves comes as Wall Street expectations are growing that CBS is more willing to explore merging with Viacom, its sister company. Both entertainment players are controlled by National Amusements, the movie-exhibition chain owned by the Redstone family. Shari Redstone, a board member of both Viacom and CBS, has on two past occasions suggested the companies combine in order to gain leverage in an era when rivals like Comcast and Walt Disney have become substantially more sizable through acquisitions.
Ianniello had been the company’s chief operating officer prior to taking the reins of the New York owner of the CBS television network and the Showtime cable service after Moonves was ousted in September of last year. Moonves had been accused by several women of making unwanted sexual advances on them during his time as head of CBS’ entertainment operations. He has denied the allegations. Under terms of a previous contract, Ianniello was eligible to receive a payment of $70 million if he wasn’t elevated to the company’s official CEO by June.
Through an agreement struck last year, National Amusements agreed not to propose a merger between the two companies for two years. But that does not mean the two corporations cannot consider the idea on their own. Viacom CEO Bob Bakish has in the past been seen as a favorite to lead a combination of the two companies.
Whether a merger can give CBS and Viacom new stature in a sector that now includes streaming giants like Netflix and new combinations of distribution and content operations like AT&T remains to be seen.
During his short tenure as acting CEO, Ianniello has overseen a reshuffling in the CBS corporate suite, naming David Nevins, the company’s chief creative officer and Susan Zirinsky its head of news, and installing new executives to oversee financial operations and human resources. CBS has also continued to pursue streaming-video opportunities, raising its guidance for the number of subscribers it will get for streaming-media operations related to Showtime as well as its streaming-video product “CBS All Access.”