Bob Bakish in a 2023 CNBC interview. Bob Bakish in a 2023 CNBC interview. (CNBC on YouTube.)

There’s a lot of uncertainty ahead for CBS parent Paramount Global. That company has been at the focus of merger and acquisition talks for some time, and entered exclusive merger talks with Skydance earlier this month. But those talks have not yet produced a result, and it’s unclear if they will. And now, as per Jill Goldsmith of Deadline, Paramount Global CEO Bob Bakish may announce his exit:

Here’s more from Goldsmith’s piece:

Paramount Global is set to announce as early as Monday morning that Bob Bakish is stepping down as CEO amid talks with Skydance and ahead of the company’s quarterly earnings that afternoon.

News Bakish might exit started circulating Friday. Paramount’s controlling shareholder and executive chair Shari Redstone, while once clearly on the same page with the chief executive, is said to be unhappy with some of his more recent strategic moves including a decision not to unload Showtime and an aborted sale process for BET. Deadline has also heard that Bakish is not a fan of a deal with David Ellison’s Skydance, in opposition to Redstone. The two companies are towards the end of a exclusive month-long negotiating period.

Paramount is reporting first quarter earnings after market close Monday. Bakish is not expected to be on the call.

It’s not clear how the company would replace him. Reports suggest the possibility of creating of an office of the CEO led by division heads including Brian Robbins, George Cheeks and Chris McCarthy. Robbins is president & CEO of Paramount Pictures & Nickelodeon and chief content officer, Movies and Kids & Family, Paramount+; Cheeks is president-CEO of CBS, and chief content officer, News and Sports, Paramount+; McCarthy is President & CEO, Showtime/MTV Entertainment Studios and Paramount Media Networks.

Jessica Toonkel of The Wall Street Journal had more on the apparent Bakish-Redstone divide in a piece Sunday night, which touched on how Bakish (who first joined Viacom in 1997, and has worked at that company in various capacities since) has tried to provide alternatives to the talks with Skydance and their CEO David Ellison, including a proposed deal with Apollo Global:

An Apollo deal could be much more appealing to Paramount shareholders—giving them a cash payout—but wouldn’t give Redstone the hefty premium Skydance is offering.

Bakish has told people close to him he has concerns about the Skydance transaction. He and his management team worked to find an alternative with advisers including Aryeh Bourkoff, a power player in media who runs boutique investment bank LionTree.

Earlier this year, Bakish floated a plan to raise equity capital to buy out all voting shareholders in Paramount, including Redstone, according to people familiar with those discussions. This move would have allowed Redstone to cash out and would have collapsed the company’s dual-class share structure, creating equal footing for all shareholders. Redstone wasn’t interested in the idea, the people said.

In mid-April, Redstone and Bakish both attended the retirement party for Sean McManus, the chair of CBS Sports, at The Grill in New York City, mingling with the likes of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and former CNN chief Jeff Zucker. Bakish and Redstone barely spoke, one attendee said.

That touches on a notable sports impact here. CBS Sports has been very solid and consistent over the last decades, particularly in McManus’ since-1996 time leading the division. But this year’s Masters was his final event. And yes, successor David Berson has been at CBS Sports since 2011, rising to the role of president in 2013, and that transition was announced in September, so that should seemingly all be as smooth as possible.

But it’s certainly notable that Berson’s start in charge of one of the most important Paramount Global divisions comes with tremendous uncertainty around the wider company’s future, and now with reports that its current CEO may quickly exit. And all of these merger plans could wind up with their own sports changes, with Skydance, Apollo, and RedBird (which Zucker is heavily involved with) all having their own sports goals. We’ll see what, if anything, comes for CBS Sports out of this.

[Deadline, The Wall Street Journal; Bakish image from a 2023 CNBC interview on YouTube]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.