CBS Corp. has suspended its search for a chief executive and extended acting Chief Executive Joseph Ianniello’s contract through the end of the year as the company weighs whether to merge with Viacom Inc. or plot its own course.
CBS had planned to hire a new chief executive by the end of March, but the search was complicated by thorny questions about CBS’ direction and a potential merger with Viacom, the other media company controlled by Sumner Redstone’s family.
Some candidates who were invited to apply for the top job expressed reservations about joining CBS before crucial questions about the company’s future as a stand-alone company were resolved, according to one knowledgeable person who asked not to be identified discussing personnel matters.
Meanwhile, Ianniello, 51, has consistently expressed interest in becoming the permanent CEO.
He has served as president and acting chief executive since September, when former Chairman and Chief Executive Leslie Moonves was forced to resign over a sexual harassment scandal.
CBS announced Tuesday that it was extending Ianniello’s tenure through Dec. 31, citing his accomplishments since he took over the storied broadcasting company.
“Joe has demonstrated exceptional leadership during this time of unprecedented transition at CBS,” the company’s board said in a statement. “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.”
Since taking over the top job on an interim basis, Ianniello has worked to modernize the New York company’s culture by appointing a “chief people officer” and a new head of CBS News, Susan Zirinsky, a former news producer. Zirinsky, 66, replaced CBS News President David Rhodes, who was brought in by Moonves in 2011.
Zirinsky is trying to preserve the journalistic legacy of the network while boosting the ratings for CBS News, which has lost ground to competitors in recent years. She also will have to heal the damage to CBS’ reputation caused by the sexual harassment allegations that led to the firing of anchor Charlie Rose and “60 Minutes” executive producer Jeff Fager.
CBS’ board also noted that Ianniello has been working to position CBS as a multiplatform content company that is less dependent on advertising. CBS owns the nation’s most popular television network, the premium cable channel Showtime and a chain of television stations. Ianniello also installed Showtime’s CEO, David Nevins, as chief creative officer for the entire company, overseeing programming for the CBS network as well as Showtime.
The move comes amid a retrenchment of legacy media companies. Just last month, Walt Disney Co. acquired much of Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox, and last summer telecommunications giant AT&T Inc. acquired Time Warner Inc., and renamed it WarnerMedia. Traditional entertainment companies are finding it more challenging to compete against such streaming giants Amazon.com Inc. and Netflix Inc.
Previously, Ianniello was Moonves’ top deputy and the company’s chief operating officer since 2013. He spearheaded the company’s acquisition of Network 10 in Australia and the spinoff of CBS Radio through a merger with Entercom. Earlier, he was responsible for the billboard division — CBS Outdoor — morphing into a real-estate investment trust. He also helped launch the streaming platform CBS All Access, which has achieved modest success.
He joined CBS in 1997.
“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,” CBS’ board said.