The analysts didn’t ask, and the executive didn’t answer.
Leslie Moonves spoke publicly for the first time since a scathing report about his history with women was published six days earlier, addressing analysts about CBS’s second-quarter earnings on a call Thursday afternoon.
But the chief executive didn’t raise the issue on everyone’s mind — the sexual harassment allegations made against him — choosing to focus on sundry topics such as content delivery and the ad-sales market. And he got a big assist from Wall Street analysts.
In what was a surreal scene, eight analysts were given the chance to ask questions on the quarterly call. The experts, from such blue-chip firms as Guggenheim, Jefferies and Bank of America, asked upward of a dozen questions over the half-hour session.
Yet instead of the allegations, they took the opportunity to query Moonves about nothing more than the same workaday subjects he preferred to talk about including CBS’s subscriber metrics and international expansion.
Ronan Farrow’s New Yorker story focused on six women who alleged that Moonves had engaged in sexual misconduct, including assault, harassment and career reprisals over three decades beginning in the 1980s. Moonves has apologized for making unwanted advances but denied engaging in assault, harassment or reprisal. The CBS board, which has largely been loyal to Moonves, announced Monday that it would hire a law firm to investigate the charges but take no further action at this time. Those lawyers were announced Tuesday night.
Yet no analyst asked about the company board’s investigation either, nor about the dueling lawsuits between Moonves’s CBS and National Amusements chief Shari Redstone over Redstone’s desire to combine CBS and Viacom. CBS has implied the timing of the allegations is suspicious, a point Redstone has strenuously denied as a “malicious insinuation.”
At the start of the call, CBS investor relations chief Adam Townsend, introducing Moonves as “our chairman and CEO,” asked that analysts keep questions away from the allegations and Redstone issues — “in light of pending litigation and other matters” and “on advice of counsel,” they wouldn’t be talking about it, he said.
But such admonitions do not preclude attempts at asking anyway, at least about the effect on the company’s operations and share price, which are of prime interest to Wall Street analysts. CBS’s stock had dropped nearly 10 percent since the article was published. None of the analysts asked the other executive on the call — Chief Operating Officer Joe Ianniello — about any plans to replace Moonves should he be removed.
The analyst acquiescence comes on the heels of similar silence on the part of many Hollywood figures about the allegations against Moonves.
The Moonves allegations have captivated the entertainment world, as one of the most successful executives in entertainment comes under fire and faces calls to step down. He has given no indication that he intends to do so.
Moonves sounded especially energized as he talked about ad-supported streaming services and other topics at the start of the call; anyone listening to the remarks without knowing the headlines would have had little indication that a full-blown scandal surrounded him.
Not all analysts were happy with how the call unfolded. BTIG’s Rich Greenfield, who has a reputation for being a thorn in the side of media companies, and who put himself in the queue but was not called on, had some stinging words for his colleagues after it wrapped. “Get a spine,” he said in a message to The Washington Post. “Ask about succession. Ask about annual meeting being postponed. At worst they don’t answer.”
Another analyst also told The Post that he was in the queue and eager to ask about the allegations but was not called on. Investor relations tends to regulate tightly who is called on, and it’s plausible the company chose analysts who they knew would not ask about any sensitive topics.
After responding to the questions about the company’s over-the-top service, its fall lineup and its production efforts, Moonves ended the call by sounding an optimistic note on the company’s future.
“As you can see, our strategy is clearly working,” the executive said, “as we continue to grow new revenue streams of licensing and distributing our ever-increasing portfolio.”