Everyone in the know knew it was inevitable.
On the final day of January 2020, it became official.
Joe Ianniello is leaving ViacomCBS and will “ensure a smooth transition” for his successor, who will become President/CEO of CBS Entertainment Group — the all-things CBS arm of the newly recombined company — on March 23.
While Ianniello was Chairman/CEO of CBS, discussions over his future in an organization where Bob Bakish — the Viacom head — was handpicked by National Amusements, Inc. leader Shari Redstone to control all date back to the reunification of CBS and Viacom.
However, chatter across New York and the TV industry isn’t so much about Ianniello’s exit. Rather, it is about the arrival of George Cheeks.
Cheeks is the former Vice Chairman of NBCUniversal Content Studios, and in his new role will lead CBS-branded assets, including CBS Television Network, which encompasses CBS Entertainment, CBS News and CBS Sports, CBS Television Studios and CBS Television Stations, and CBS’ first-run syndication business.
Cheeks will also partner with the ViacomCBS digital organization on the CBS-branded digital assets, including CBS All Access.
Until joining NBC 2012, Cheeks served as EVP of Business Affairs and General Counsel for Viacom Music and Entertainment Group, while also serving as Head of Standards and Practices for Viacom Media. Before that, he served in legal roles at Nickelodeon, MTV, CMT and LOGO.
“I am thrilled to welcome George back to the family at this exciting moment for ViacomCBS,” Bakish said. “Throughout his career, George has built broad experience in broadcast and studio operations and brings a unique mix of skills – combining deep commercial expertise and industry relationships with strong creative and programming capabilities. With his finger on the pulse of culture and change and his strong grasp of strategy, brands, audiences and content monetization, George will help CBS build on its position as the most-watched broadcast network and drive results across the entire CBS portfolio.”
Cheeks said, “I am incredibly honored to join the stellar CBS team and help lead these incredible brands forward. From news to sports to entertainment, CBS sets the standard, and I look forward to building on this tremendous foundation as we find new and innovative ways to deliver CBS to audiences worldwide.”
At the same time, Bakish spoke warmly of Ianniello, saying he was “grateful … for his many contributions to CBS and for the meaningful role he has played in bringing the CBS and Viacom teams together. Thanks in no small part to his efforts, the CBS brand has a strong and loyal following across a variety of platforms – positioning it well
for this important next chapter.”
Ianniello added, “Throughout my 22-year tenure I have always said that the quality and integrity of the people of CBS are what make it great. We have extraordinary employees at all levels of this organization, and I couldn’t be prouder of how they do their jobs day in and day out. Working with Bob, I now look forward to ensuring a smooth transition to the next phase of leadership of CBS, so that the Eye can continue to thrive, just as it has for so long.”
In addition to looking forward to a smooth transition, Ianniello can look forward to a huge pay day. As RBR+TVBR reported in November, Ianniello received a cool $100 million for working with Bakish and Cheeks through the merger and transition period.
Initial rumors had Ianniello staying through Memorial Day. Now, he’ll be exiting before Easter Sunday, ready to hatch his next opportunity.