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Paramount Global fires Bob Bakish, announces new leadership team

Paramount Global fires Bob Bakish, announces new leadership team

George Cheeks, Chris McCarthy and Brian Robins will head the newly formed office of CEO

It's official: Bob Bakish has been named CEO of Paramount Global, the company announced Monday. The executive's departure after nearly three decades at Paramount Global and its predecessor Viacom comes as the media conglomerate's board of directors and controlling shareholder Shari Redstone try to strike a deal to merge with Skydance Media.

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

News emerged over the weekend that Bakish is expected to leave the company soon. Paramount Global said Bakish “will step down from his position as CEO” and from the board of directors.

Cheeks, McCarthy and Robins will work closely with CFO Naveen Chopra and the Board of Directors to “develop a comprehensive long-term plan to accelerate growth and development of popular content, measurably streamline operations, strengthen the balance sheet, and continue to improve performance.” Broadcast strategy, the company said.

“Paramount Global has exceptional assets and we strongly believe in the future value creation potential of the company,” Redstone, non-executive chairman of Paramount Global, said in a statement. “I have tremendous confidence in George, Chris and Brian. They have the ability to develop and execute a new strategic plan and work together as true partners. I Very excited about what their combined leadership means for Paramount Global and the opportunities that lie ahead.

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

The management change is the latest chapter in Paramount's months-long merger and acquisition saga. Bakish's dismissal may be intended to accelerate the completion of the deal.

A special committee established by the board of directors of Paramount Global and Redstone (whose National Amusements Inc. controls 77% of Paramount Global's voting stock) is trying to finalize the terms of a merger with David Ellison's Skydance Media; The parties have an exclusive bargaining window that expires on May 3 but could be extended. To address investors' protests that Redstone was pursuing this transaction because of its self-interest in compensation for NAI, it agreed to give Paramount Global's non-voting shareholders approval for any Skydance deal, while Skydance would receive Paramount shares at a premium. Bloomberg mentioned Sunday. Furthermore, Skydance is offering $3 billion in cash to Paramount Global, according to the New York Times a report; Paramount could use some or all of that to pay down its $14.6 billion debt.

Meanwhile, a competing bid may be prepared by Sony Pictures Entertainment and private equity firm Apollo Global Management, which have discussed teaming up in a bid to take Paramount private.

Bakish, who was Redstone's preferred dance partner, reportedly opposed the merger of Paramount and Skydance. But it was clear that Bakish would not survive no matter how the M&A scenarios played out.

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There's another big question hanging over Paramount: Its distribution deal with cable operator Charter Communications is set to expire on April 30, and the terms of any renewal will have a significant impact on Paramount Global's financial performance going forward. The Paramount Networks group, including CBS, MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon, will likely be pulled from Charter's Spectrum TV channel: In 2023, Charter's controversial talks with Disney led to a 12-day blackout before the two sides reached an agreement.

Bakish's pay package in 2023 was $31.26 million, down 2.5% from the previous year, according to the company's initial proxy filing on April 11. His pay package last year included a base salary of $3 million, stock bonuses of $15.5 million, and a cash bonus of $12.4 million.

Bakish, 60, has led Paramount Global as president and CEO since it was formed through the remerger of Viacom and CBS in 2019, with Shari Redstone winning the combination of the two companies after a legal battle. 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. Prior to becoming CEO, he led the company's international business as President/CEO of Viacom International Media Networks (VIMN) starting in 2007. Prior to joining Viacom, he served as a partner with Booz Allen & Hamilton in its media and entertainment practices.

Under Bakish's employment agreement with Paramount Global, he is eligible for severance payments and benefits in the event his employment is “terminated by us without 'cause' or by him with 'good cause',” or, in certain circumstances, following a non-extension from the Special Employment Agreement “, according to the company's latest proxy statement. His severance payments are subject to an aggregate maximum of two times the sum of his base salary and target bonus amount; Bakish's salary is paid up to the second anniversary of his termination, and he is also scheduled to receive an annual cash bonus in the amount of the target bonus as if he had remained in his position through the second anniversary of his exit. In addition, Bakish is eligible for full vesting of all outstanding stock awards.

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