The newly constituted board of directors of CBS is meeting today in Los Angeles, with M&A and the search for a permanent CEO among the topics on its agenda.
Sources are saying the board meeting has more of a procedural bent and is not likely to result in a definitive outcome on any key strategic front. Even so, the gathering represents the latest step in the company’s rebuilding effort after a tumultuous 2018.
The meeting punctuates an especially high-profile week for CBS. Its flagship broadcast network as well as Showtime and the CW are presenting shows, with a retinue of executives on hand, at TCA winter press tour in Pasadena. Board members in town for today’s meeting also went on set visits to get the full measure of CBS production activities. Unlike at past TCA press tours, no CBS execs took the stage for an executive session, though programming chief Kelly Kahl did select one-on-one interviews.
Sunday’s Super Bowl LIII is expected to bring CBS more than $500 million in revenue in a single day and upwards of 100 million total viewers for the New England Patriots-Los Angeles Rams showdown. Board members, not surprisingly, will be among the attendees at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Wall Street and the media industry increasingly take it as a given that CBS will combine with Viacom, but formal merger talks have not been initiated. That hasn’t stopped wide-ranging speculation, however. The latest example is a report by CNBC that Discovery is interested in a tie-up with CBS and Viacom. National Amusements, controlling shareholder of CBS and Viacom, affirmed its openness to a two-step transaction in a legal filing last spring but hasn’t commented on such a scenario in the months since.
Discovery, which closed its $14.6 billion acquisition of Scripps Networks Interactive less than a year ago, quickly shot down the report. “The CNBC story is inaccurate,” David Leavy, Chief Corporate Operations Officer, said in a statement provided to Deadline. “Discovery is not for sale. We remain extremely confident in our growth strategy in the U.S. and globally as we continue to build the leading portfolio of superfan brands in every market around the world.”
Under terms of a settlement reached between CBS and National Amusements last September after the companies had sued each other over voting control, NAI is barred from initiating merger talks until September 2020. But either CBS or Viacom independently can broach the idea sooner.
On the CEO front, Joe Ianniello has been serving as interim CEO and is a candidate to become permanent boss. Search firm Korn Ferry provided a list of finalists for the job to the board earlier this month, and its short list is said to include prominent outsiders like former Disney exec Tom Staggs. The expectation is for a decision about the CEO to be made in weeks, not months.
Strauss Zelnick remains interim chair of the board, which saw a big influx of new members in recent months as the company hit the reset button during the ouster of former CEO Les Moonves. Many of those new board members are still getting fully up to speed.
Shares in CBS dropped a fraction today to finish at $49.46 but they have risen 10% in 2019 to date, with investors seeing upside as the company starts to put Moonves and legal strife with National Amusements in the rear-view mirror. Ianniello will lead the company’s next quarterly earnings presentation to Wall Street on February 14.
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