Cheeks will serve as president and CEO of CBS Entertainment Group, overseeing all CBS-branded assets under the ViacomCBS umbrella, reporting to ViacomCBS president-CEO Bob Bakish. The move marks a return to the ViacomCBS fold for Cheeks, who previously held various business posts at Viacom over a 15-year period before joining NBCUniversal in 2012. Cheeks will formally begin his new role on March 23, ViacomCBS said.
“I am thrilled to welcome George back to the family at this exciting moment for ViacomCBS,” said Bakish. “Throughout his career, George has built broad experience in broadcast and studio operations and brings a unique mix of skills – combining deep commercial expertise and industry relationships with strong creative and programming capabilities. With his finger on the pulse of culture and change and his strong grasp of strategy, brands, audiences and content monetization, George will help CBS build on its position as the most-watched broadcast network and drive results across the entire CBS portfolio.”
ViacomCBS’ move to recruit Cheeks was a surprise. The executive spent a year at the top of NBC Entertainment as co-chairman alongside Paul Telegdy in 2018-2019. Last fall he transitioned to a new role as vice chairman of NBCUniversal Content Studios.
“I am incredibly honored to join the stellar CBS team and help lead these incredible brands forward,” Cheeks said. “From news to sports to entertainment, CBS sets the standard, and I look forward to building on this tremendous foundation as we find new and innovative ways to deliver CBS to audiences worldwide.”
Ianniello’s eventual departure from the ViacomCBS fold was expected following the reunion of Viacom and CBS Corp. that was completed in early December. But the transition at the top came earlier than most CBS insiders predicted, given that Ianniello’s contract, inked last August when the Viacom-CBS merger was first sealed, ran through early next year.
Bakish praised the “meaningful role” that Ianniello has played at CBS and Viacom (prior to the first Viacom-CBS breakup in 2006) over the past three decades as he rose through the ranks in business and finance. He was named CFO of CBS Corp. in 2009 and promoted to chief operating officer in 2012.
“I am very pleased to be able to leave CBS well positioned for long-term success,” Ianniello said. “Throughout my 22-year tenure I have always said that the quality and integrity of the people of CBS are what make it great. We have extraordinary employees at all levels of this organization, and I couldn’t be prouder of how they do their jobs day in and day out.”
A well-liked leader among CBS staffers, Ianniello navigated the company and himself through a difficult period in 2018 after longtime CBS chairman-CEO Leslie Moonves was ousted after allegations of sexual misconduct in his past surfaced. That scandal broke as the Moonves-led CBS was in the midst of a bitter fight with Shari Redstone, the controlling shareholder of Viacom and CBS, over the control of CBS Corp.
Ianniello had been Moonves’ right-hand executive for years and helped execute the ill-fated strategy of CBS and its board of directors suing Redstone in May 2018 in an effort to strip Redstone of her voting control of CBS Corp. Moonves balked at Redstone’s desire to bring Viacom and CBS Corp. back together, as they were from 1999 until January 2006 when Redstone’s father decided to break them into separate entities again out of frustration with Viacom’s then-sagging stock price.
After Moonves’ abrupt ouster, Ianniello was named CBS Corp.’s acting CEO. He made some quick moves to elevate executives, including promoting Showtime chief David Nevins to the chief creative officer role and naming longtime CBS News producer Susan Zirinsky as the president of the CBS News, which has also been battered during the past two years with allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct involving high-ranking staffers.
When Viacom and CBS Corp. finally reached a long-awaited second merger agreement, the CBS board of directors insisted on ensuring a role for Ianniello in the new configuration. That was seen as an effort to ensure consistency of management and to avoid blowback against CBS board members if CBS’ performance were to struggle following a Viacom takeover. Ianniello had been expected to serve out at least the bulk of his contract, which also stipulated that he could only be fired by the ViacomCBS board of directors and not Bakish, who was previously CEO of Viacom.
Ianniello will leave CBS with a sizable golden parachute that will include an estimated $60 million to $70 million that he was owed under the terms of a past employment contract. Plus Ianniello is believed to have received additional compensation commitments for agreeing to stick around after the merger agreement was clinched last summer.
ViacomCBS declined to make Bakish, Ianniello or Cheeks available for additional comment.
(Pictured: George Cheeks, Joe Ianniello)
Here are memos sent by Bakish and Ianniello to CBS staffers about the transition:
As Joe just shared with you, we are announcing today that he will be transitioning out of ViacomCBS. I’ll be notifying the rest of the company shortly.
All of you know better than anyone what a passionate advocate Joe has been for CBS over the past two decades. During his time leading CBS, Joe successfully grew the company into a global multiplatform premium content company. Prior to that, he served as the Chief Operating Officer since 2013, and was responsible for establishing and executing Company strategy across all businesses.
Joe developed and spearheaded the Company’s monetization strategy across platforms, including retransmission consent fees and reverse compensation from local television station affiliates, as well as the licensing of the CBS Corporation content around the world for digital streaming and broadband services. He also oversaw the launch of CBS All Access as well as Showtime’s OTT streaming service, which together became one of the Company’s fastest growing initiatives. He also led the Company’s acquisition of Network 10 in Australia and the split-off of CBS Radio through a merger with Entercom, in addition to leading the conversion of CBS Outdoor into a real-estate investment trust, marking a first for an outdoor advertising business.
I’m pleased to share that Joe will be succeeded by George Cheeks, who has been appointed President and CEO of CBS Entertainment Group, effective March 23. In this role, George will lead CBS-branded assets, including CBS Television Network, which encompasses CBS Entertainment, CBS News and CBS Sports, CBS Television Studios, CBS Television Stations and CBS’s first-run syndication business. He will also partner with the ViacomCBS digital organization on the CBS-branded digital assets including CBS All Access. George will report to me. With this change, Jo Ann Ross and Ray Hopkins will also now report directly to me. David Nevins will continue to serve as Chief Creative Officer of CBS, reporting to George in that capacity, and to me as CEO of Showtime Networks.
I’m confident that George is ideally suited to lead CBS through its next chapter. With 25 years of experience, he brings to the position broad experience in broadcast and studio operations and a unique mix of skills – combining deep commercial expertise and industry relationships with strong creative and programming capabilities. Working with all of you and the CBS leadership, he will draw on his strong grasp of strategy, brands, audiences and content monetization to help CBS build on its position as the most-watched broadcast network and drive results across the entire CBS portfolio.
Many of you may be familiar with George through the many senior roles he has held at NBCUniversal – and before that at Viacom, where he spent 15 years holding a number of leadership positions. Most recently, he served as Vice Chairman, NBCUniversal Content Studios, overseeing NBCUniversal’s television studios. Before that, he held the position of Co-Chairman of NBC Entertainment, where he was jointly responsible for the network’s primetime, late night and scripted daytime programming – including business affairs, marketing, communications, scheduling, West Coast research and digital operations and first-run syndication.
Very importantly, thanks to all of your hard work, George will be off to a running start, picking up on Joe’s efforts and working with CBS leadership to ensure a smooth transition. With five of the top six new series this season and the most-watched late night talk show on television, George’s return at this exciting moment is a testament to your hard work and the momentum underway at CBS – and to the many opportunities ahead for ViacomCBS as a whole.
Please join me in welcoming George to the team and in wishing Joe all the best. And keep up the great work!
CBS Colleagues –
As many of you have heard me say, every employee has a first day and a last day here at CBS. And for me, after 22 years with this remarkable company, my last day has come.
During this time, we have transformed CBS from a traditional media company into a global, multi-platform premium content company. And we did it together.
In fact, the greatest privilege of my career has been working side by side with all of you. Your integrity, creativity, dedication and passion are unparalleled and have fueled our continuing success.
And while how long we stay may be finite, our work at this company is timeless. Just look at what we achieved together:
We transformed the business while remaining true to who we’ve always been and who our consumers expect us to be.
We made strides in improving our culture to make this a more inclusive and respectful work environment.
We launched entirely new streaming businesses and created new sources of growth that just a decade ago were unthinkable.
All this while remaining vigilant stewards of the Eye and all it represents.
I hope you share my sense of accomplishment. Because we did it together.
CBS has always been and will continue to be a vital institution. From the first words that crackled across our radio network in the 1920s to the stream-it-anywhere, on-demand world of 2020, our passion for compelling storytelling remains the beating heart of this place.
At the core of our success is the tremendous group of professionals here at CBS. And now, you have in front of you a moment of transition and opportunity. Fortunately, we have the right people in the right roles to help us reach even greater heights. Thanks to all of you, I know this Company will continue to build on our success story. I will always be rooting for each and every one of you.
I am proud to call all of you colleagues and many of you friends. You have my most sincere wishes for a happy and prosperous future.
You are CBS.