Leslie Moonves, already arguably the most powerful man in television, just got a little more powerful. The president and chief executive officer of CBS Corp. will soon add the title of chairman of the CBS board of directors, replacing his longtime boss Sumner Redstone. The ailing Redstone, 92, stepped down as executive chairman of the CBS board Tuesday and will now hold the honorary title of chairman emeritus. Redstone’s health has been declining for months, leading to intense speculation in both Hollywood and on Wall Street about how his eventual passing might impact the future leadership of his two media conglomerates, CBS Corp. and Viacom (the company that controls MTV, Comedy Central, and other holdings). Today’s news settles at least half of that mystery: Moonves has been given a massive vote of confidence and is positioned to remain fully in charge of all things CBS even after Redstone’s death.
As part of today’s development, Moonves will continue to work with Redstone’s daughter, Shari Redstone, who is vice-chairman of CBS Corp. and will inherit his controlling stakes in both CBS and Viacom. She issued a statement Wednesday saying it was important that the two media companies be led by “someone who is not a trustee of my father’s trust or otherwise intertwined in Redstone family matters, but rather a leader with an independent voice.” Curiously, the younger Redstone made no specific mention of Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman. Since Dauman is part of the trust that will own CBS and Viacom after her father dies, her statement would seem to signal she’s not keen on the idea of Dauman getting the same sort of promotion as Moonves. Bottom line: Nothing’s changing at CBS — but at Viacom things may be about to get a little bit interesting.