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Paramount Global Boots Bob Bakish as CEO, Names New Leadership Team of Three Execs

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It’s official: Bob Bakish is out as CEO of Paramount Global, the company announced Monday. The exec’s departure after nearly three decades at Paramount Global and predecessor Viacom comes as the media conglomerate’s board and controlling shareholder Shari Redstone are trying to lock down a deal to merge with Skydance Media.

Three of the company’s divisional heads will divvy up duties in the newly formed “Office of the CEO”: George Cheeks, president and CEO of CBS; Chris McCarthy, president and CEO, Showtime/MTV Entertainment Studios and Paramount Media Networks; and Brian Robbins, president and CEO of Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon.

Word emerged over the weekend that Bakish was expected to exit the company imminently. Paramount Global said Bakish is “stepping down from his role as CEO” and from the board of directors. Bakish has agreed to remain employed with the company as a senior adviser from May 1 to Oct. 31, 2024, “to help ensure a seamless transition of his duties,” the company said in an SEC filing.

In a memo to Paramount staffers sent shortly after the after-market announcement, Bakish called seven years at the helm “the greatest honor of my professional life.” He put a rosy spin on tumultuous years for the company — but a period the also saw the birth of mega hits such as the “Yellowstone” drama franchise and 2022’s “Top Gun: Maverick.”

“We have made the biggest shows across the country and around the world, created films beloved by audiences young and old, and produced the biggest events in music, sports, and more that defined culture,” Bakish wrote. “We pioneered free ad-supported streaming television, launched the fastest growing pay streaming service in the United States, and elevated one of the most iconic global entertainment brands to create the company we know today as Paramount. We did it all while navigating a fascinating but no less challenging time for media and entertainment – economic ups and downs, mergers and acquisitions, sweeping organizational transformation, and a global pandemic.”

Cheeks, McCarthy and Robbins will work closely with CFO Naveen Chopra and the board of directors to “to develop a comprehensive, long-range plan to accelerate growth and develop popular content, materially streamline operations, strengthen the balance sheet, and continue to optimize the streaming strategy,” the company said.

SEE ALSO: Paramount Global’s New Leadership Trio Tell Staff in Memo After Bakish Ouster: ‘We Know This Has Been a Challenging Time’

Redstone, Paramount Global’s nonexecutive chair, said in a statement: “Paramount Global includes exceptional assets and we believe strongly in the future value creation potential of the company. I have tremendous confidence in George, Chris and Brian. They have both the ability to develop and execute on a new strategic plan and to work together as true partners. I am extremely excited for what their combined leadership means for Paramount Global and for the opportunities that lie ahead.”

Paramount Global announced the executive changes as it reported first quarter 2024 results. Bakish, of course, was not on the Q1 earnings call — which lasted less than 10 minutes. Following brief prepared remarks at the start of the call by Cheeks, McCarthy and Robbins, Chopra then presented a read-through of the financial results. The company did not take questions from Wall Street analysts.

The management shakeup is the latest chapter in Paramount’s months-long M&A saga. And Bakish’s removal may be intended to accelerate the consummation of a deal.

A special committee set up by Paramount Global’s board and Redstone (whose National Amusements Inc. controls 77% of the voting shares in Paramount Global) have been trying to finalize terms for a merger with David Ellison’s Skydance Media; the parties have an exclusive bargaining window that expires May 3 but may be extended. To address investor protests that Redstone has been pursuing that deal because of her own self interest in landing a payout for NAI, she has agreed to give nonvoting shareholders of Paramount Global approval over any Skydance deal, while Skydance would acquire Paramount shares at a premium, Bloomberg reported Sunday. On top of that, Skydance is offering to $3 billion in cash to Paramount Global, per a New York Times report; Paramount could use some or all of that to pay down its $14.6 billion debt.

Meanwhile, a competing offer may be brewing by Sony Pictures Entertainment and private-equity firm Apollo Global Management, which have discussed teaming on a bid to take Paramount private.

Bakish is said to have opposed a merger of Paramount and Skydance, which has been Redstone’s preferred dance partner. But it has been clear that Bakish would not be kept on regardless of how the M&A scenarios play out.

Another big question hanging over Paramount: Its distribution deal with cable operator Charter Communications is due to expire April 30, and the terms of any renewal would have a sizable impact on Paramount Global’s financial performance going forward. It’s possible Paramount’s suite of networks, including CBS, MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon, could get pulled off Charter’s Spectrum TV: In 2023, Charter’s contentious talks with Disney led to a 12-day blackout before the two sides reached a deal.

Bakish’s pay package in 2023 was worth $31.26 million, down 2.5% from the year prior, according to the company’s April 11 preliminary proxy filing. His pay package last year included a $3 million base salary, $15.5 million in stock awards and a $12.4 million cash bonus.

Bakish, 60, had led Paramount Global as president and CEO since it was formed through the recombination of Viacom and CBS in 2019, with Shari Redstone prevailing to bring the two companies together after a legal fight. Previously, he had been CEO of Viacom since December 2016.

Bakish joined Viacom in 1997 and held a series of senior corporate, sales and development positions over the next two decades. Before becoming CEO, he headed the company’s international business as president/CEO of Viacom International Media Networks (VIMN) starting in 2007. Prior to Viacom, he worked as a partner with Booz Allen & Hamilton in its media and entertainment practice.

Under Bakish’s employment agreement with Paramount Global, he is eligible for severance payments and benefits in the event that his employment “is terminated by us without ‘cause’ or by him with ‘good reason,’ or, in certain circumstances, following non-extension of his employment agreement,” per the company’s most recent proxy statement. His severance payments are subject to an overall cap of two times the sum of his base salary and target bonus amount; Bakish’s salary is payable until the second anniversary of his termination and he’s due to also get an annual cash bonus at his target bonus amount as if he had remained employed through the second anniversary of his exit. In addition, Bakish is eligible for full vesting of all outstanding stock awards.

Here is Bakish’s full memo to Paramount Global employees:

Team,

I’m sure you have seen the news that I will be leaving the company, and that George Cheeks, Brian Robbins and Chris McCarthy will be stepping in to lead the Office of the CEO.

When I was asked to serve as interim CEO in 2016, I thought it would be a month-long gig. Seven years later, I can truly say the opportunity to lead this incredible company has been an unexpected but most welcome gift, and the greatest honor of my professional life.

We have made the biggest shows across the country and around the world, created films beloved by audiences young and old, and produced the biggest events in music, sports, and more that defined culture. We pioneered free ad-supported streaming television, launched the fastest growing pay streaming service in the United States, and elevated one of the most iconic global entertainment brands to create the company we know today as Paramount. We did it all while navigating a fascinating but no less challenging time for media and entertainment – economic ups and downs, mergers and acquisitions, sweeping organizational transformation, and a global pandemic.

And we did it with the same spirit of those who built the brands we’ve been so lucky to steward. It’s been my privilege to watch you support each other and nurture our very special, rare corporate culture, while using our platform to do so much good in the communities we serve.

I’m incredibly grateful to Shari and the Board for the opportunity to lead this company, and to the mentors and friends I’ve made in my 27 years here. It may sound trite, but it’s undeniably true that it’s the people who make this place. Please know I couldn’t believe more strongly in all of you.

You are in great hands with George, Chris and Brian, who are longstanding, seasoned leaders with deep expertise across our brands and businesses. I will be here to support through the transition, and rooting for all of you, your success and happiness, far beyond.

With my deepest thanks,
Bob