Me­dia land­scape shifts

With Moonves gone, takeover of CBS pos­si­ble

Standard-Freeholder (Cornwall) - - ENTERTAINMENT - MAE AN­DER­SON

NEW YORK — The res­ig­na­tion of long­time CBS chief Les Moonves won’t likely lead to dras­tic changes in net­work pro­grams, but a re­lated deal could make the com­pany ripe for a takeover as tra­di­tional me­dia com­pa­nies com­pete with up­starts such as Netflix and Ama­zon.

Moonves was ousted Sun­day, just hours af­ter New Yorker writer Ro­nan Farrow de­tailed more sex­ual mis­con­duct al­le­ga­tions against him. A dozen women have al­leged mis­treat­ment, in­clud­ing forced oral sex, grop­ing and re­tal­i­a­tion if they re­sisted him.

CBS would be obliged to pay $120 mil­lion in sev­er­ance if its in­ves­ti­ga­tion, be­ing con­ducted by two out­side law firms, finds no ev­i­dence of wrong­do­ing. Moonves has de­nied any wrong­do­ing. CBS has also agreed to do­nate $20 mil­lion to groups sup­port­ing women’s rights and #MeToo causes.

Julie Chen, wife of Moonves, was ab­sent from her talk show on the net­work The Talk a day af­ter his de­par­ture.

In what was sup­posed to be a cel­e­bra­tory sea­son pre­miere Mon­day for The Talk, its four other panelists walked out somberly with­out Chen, who acts as host and mod­er­a­tor and whose ab­sence had not been an­nounced.

Sharon Os­bourne choked back tears as she an­nounced Chen would be taking time off to be with her fam­ily, and ex­pressed sup­port for her co-star and friend, a sen­ti­ment sec­onded by the other three women at the ta­ble.

All four also ex­pressed ve­he­ment sup­port for the women who came for­ward about Moonves, with Os­bourne say­ing he had clearly ru­ined the life of one of the ac­cusers.

Chen, who also hosts the CBS se­ries Big Brother and mar­ried Moonves in 2004, pub­licly sup­ported him when a first round of sex­ual al­le­ga­tions emerged last month.

Even be­fore the lat­est New Yorker ar­ti­cle came out, Moonves was al­ready fac­ing pres­sure to leave. His de­par­ture was bro­kered as part of broader talks with CBS’s par­ent com­pany, Na­tional Amuse­ments, over the net­work’s fu­ture. Un­der set­tle­ment terms with CBS, Na­tional Amuse­ments chief Shari Red­stone con­ceded not to push for com­bin­ing CBS with sib­ling com­pany Vi­a­com for at least two years, a merger Moonves had op­posed. Na­tional Amuse­ments also agreed to a board shakeup that in­creased the power of in­de­pen­dent di­rec­tors.

The net­work was strug­gling when Moonves took over as en­ter­tain­ment chief in 1995. He quickly turned things around and churned out shows ap­peal­ing to the older, more tra­di­tion-bound CBS au­di­ence — broad-ap­peal sit­coms such as Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang The­ory and pro­ce­dural dra­mas such as CSI: Crime Scene In­ves­ti­ga­tion and NCIS. Sur­vivor was an early re­al­ity show hit, and con­tin­ues to this day.

His tem­po­rary re­place­ment, chief oper­at­ing of­fi­cer Joseph Ian­niello, has steered top projects such as stand-alone stream­ing ser­vices for CBS and the Show­time ca­ble chan­nel. But he doesn’t have a cre­ative or sales back­ground, which might make him an awk­ward long-term leader for the com­pany.

For now, Ian­niello is un­likely to make dras­tic changes in pro­gram­ming, par­tic­u­larly since CBS’s for­mula has been work­ing. Pro­gram­ming changes could be more sub­stan­tial if CBS chooses some­one out­side the com­pany as a per­ma­nent re­place­ment.

To bet­ter com­pete with tech com­pa­nies such as Netflix, com­pa­nies that have tra­di­tion­ally dis­trib­uted TV shows and movies have been buy­ing the pro­duc­ers of such pro­grams. The pro­duc­ers, them­selves, have been con­sol­i­dat­ing as well. AT&T bought Time Warner for $85 bil­lion in June, while Dis­ney is in the process of ac­quir­ing the en­ter­tain­ment as­sets of Fox for $71.3 bil­lion (fig­ures in U.S. dol­lars).

That makes CBS a hot com­mod­ity. With the shakeup of its board, there are 11 in­de­pen­dent di­rec­tors and two af­fil­i­ated with Na­tional Amuse­ments, down from three. One of the new di­rec­tors, Can­dace Bei­necke, is a lawyer with ex­per­tise in merg­ers and ac­qui­si­tions. Na­tional Amuse­ments agreed to give “good faith consideration” to any of­fer the new board deems good for share­hold­ers.

Crock­ett said pos­si­ble suit­ors in­clude AT&T “dou­bling down” and at­tempt­ing to buy CBS to com­ple­ment its re­cent Time Warner ac­qui­si­tion. Or Ver­i­zon, which was ru­moured to be a suitor in the past, could make an of­fer as a way to “deepen its con­tent pres­ence and close a con­tent gap with AT&T,” he said.

Of­fers from Ama­zon, Ap­ple or Google might be pos­si­ble as well, if those com­pa­nies wanted to ex­pand their sports of­fer­ings and “vault into a lead­er­ship po­si­tion in pro­duc­tion of top tier TV con­tent,” Crock­ett said.

CHRIS GOODNEY/bLOOmbERG

Les­lie (Les) Moonves, pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of CBS Corp., speaks be­fore a Bloomberg Tele­vi­sion in­ter­view in New York.

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