CBS's Les Moonves Becomes Most Powerful Exec Felled by #MeToo

By Carlo Versano

Nearly a year after the #MeToo movement began, it has felled one of the media industry's most powerful executives.

CBS announced Sunday that Leslie Moonves, its long-time chairman, CEO, and president, will depart the company after a second round of sexual misconduct and assault allegations was exposed by journalist Ronan Farrow in The New Yorker.

Farrow first reported in July that several women had accused the media titan of harassment that spanned decades. Since then, CBS's board launched an investigation, though it did not put Moonves on leave. Last week it was reported that the company was negotiating Moonves's exit.

With Sunday's story, which included new accusations of Moonves retaliating against his accusers, "there was just too much pressure on the board and they had to act," BTIG media analyst Rich Greenfield said Monday in an interview on Cheddar.

With Moonves out, the likelihood that CBS will get sold has become much higher, said Greenfield.

Moonves was notoriously resistant to pressure from controlling shareholder Shari Redstone to merge with Viacom, CBS's sister company which Redstone also controls. Now, especially with a new wave of consolidation in the media sector, CBS is all but for sale, said Greenfield.

"The tech companies are replacing these legacy media companies," he said. "CBS is simply not big enough to compete long term."

The terms of Moonves's exit were unclear, though it was reported that his severance will be withheld pending the results of an independent investigation. Moonves, one of the most handsomely paid CEOs in America, stands to make up to $120 million upon departure. That Moonves could be entitled to such a high severance is "completely disgusting," said one of his accusers in the New Yorker article.

CBS said in its announcement Sunday that the company would donate $20 million to organizations that support gender equality in the workplace.

Moonves denied the new allegations in a statement, saying only that he had consensual relations with three of the accusers years ago. He added: "I am deeply saddened to be leaving the company. I wish nothing but the best for the organization, the newly comprised board of directors and all of its employees."

CBS also settled its disagreement with Redstone's National Amusements and announced that Joseph Ianniello, the company's COO, will take over as CEO on an interim basis.

Greenfield said he believed Ianniello will be out by the year's end and will be replaced with an outside executive as part of a network "house cleaning."

Before the scandal, Moonves was known as a brilliant television programmer and credited with turning CBS into the most-watched network in the U.S. He was also behind some of the company's recent digital success, like its "All Access" subscription platform.

CBS shares were down 3 percent in early trading Monday.

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