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Viacom names Robert Bakish as acting CEO

Viacom names Robert Bakish as acting CEO
Viacom headquarters in New York's Times Square in 2015. (Andrew Burton / AFP/Getty Images)

Media company Viacom Inc. shored up its management team on Monday by naming the head of its international operations, Robert Bakish, as the company's acting president and chief executive.

Bakish becomes Viacom's third chief executive in less than three months. He will replace Thomas Dooley, the long-time chief operating officer, who became interim CEO in late August. Dooley stepped into the top job after former Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman was forced out, but Dooley decided in September to leave Viacom on Nov. 15.

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By tapping an insider rather than launch an exhaustive search for a permanent CEO, Viacom's board signaled that it was open to a reunion with CBS, the other media company controlled by the Redstone family.

At the urging of Sumner Redstone and his daughter Shari, the controlling shareholders of the two companies, each firm has formed a special committee to explore a merger, although the companies have not yet engaged in talks, according to a person close to the situation who was unauthorized to discuss the matter.

Because Viacom is considering a merger with CBS, the Viacom board determined that it was best to have Bakish serve as acting chief executive at least while that process continues, according to another person familiar with the strategy.

"We're not going to stand still while the CBS merger is being evaluated," Bakish said in an email distributed to Viacom employees. "I believe there's a lot of work we can do in the near-term to make us stronger, no matter what the next chapter of Viacom is."

Robert Bakish, acting CEO of Viacom.
Robert Bakish, acting CEO of Viacom. (Viacom)

Viacom board members were under pressure to quickly recruit a new leader because Dooley made it clear that he was not interested in staying on beyond mid-November. He will leave with a golden parachute worth more than $60 million.

Analysts widely expect that should the two companies merge, then Leslie Moonves, chief executive of CBS, would be entrusted to run a combined CBS/Viacom. Moonves is respected on Wall Street and enjoys a good working relationship with Shari Redstone. CBS also has fortified its businesses at a time when Viacom has struggled.

Viacom and CBS were part of the same company until Sumner Redstone cleaved his empire in two pieces in 2006.

"We are determined to move forward aggressively to strengthen Viacom for the future, whether as a stand-alone company or in a potential combination with CBS," Viacom Chairman Tom May said in a statement announcing Bakish's appointment.

Bakish, 52, will become acting CEO on Nov. 15, providing a measure of continuity despite the revolving door and the exodus of top executives in recent months. He joined the media company in 1997, and is deeply familiar with Viacom's operations.

Viacom's board also tasked Bakish with becoming heavily involved in the management of a handful of key TV networks. Bakish was named to a newly created position of chief executive of the Viacom Global Entertainment group, which now comprises the international TV networks as well as the domestic Music and Entertainment group, which has been managed for nearly two years by Doug Herzog, the longtime head of Comedy Central.

Two of Viacom's flagship channels, MTV and Comedy Central, have witnessed severe ratings declines, and Comedy Central has lost marquee personalities, including Jon Stewart, John Oliver, Stephen Colbert and Samantha Bee. Other TV channels in the new group include VH1, Spike, Logo, CMT and TV Land. Herzog now will report to Bakish.

Viacom has two other TV network groups: the Nickelodeon Group, which includes the children's networks, and BET Networks. Viacom also owns the Paramount Pictures film studio in Los Angeles.

For the last nine years, Bakish has been in charge of Viacom International Media Networks, which include MTV and foreign Paramount Pictures movie channels. The international unit has been a bright spot for the company. He also is chairman of a joint venture in India, Viacom 18, and Channel 5 in Britain.

"To be a successful leader in the industry today requires continuous flexibility, a global perspective, a commitment to innovation and an embrace of change," Shari Redstone, vice chair of Viacom, said in the statement. "Bob is an exemplary forward thinker who embodies these traits, embraces disruption and brings teams along with him."

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The Redstone family owns nearly 80% of Viacom's voting stock, giving the clan from Boston huge sway in corporate affairs. Shari Redstone hand-picked several new board members, who took their seats in August when Dauman was ousted.

Viacom's stock has fallen 45% in the last two years amid declining ratings at key networks, including MTV and Comedy Central, and struggles at its Paramount Pictures film studio. Viacom shares closed Monday down 4 cents, or less than 1%, to $37.56.

UPDATES:

4:20 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details including comments from board members and Bakish.

This article was first published at 2 p.m.

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