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Berson of Interest

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Despite the angst surrounding the Paramount deal, CBS produced the most watched program in television history with February’s Super Bowl; racked up the largest NFL audience in 25 years; and broadcast the Final Four, the Masters and the PGA Championship. Photo: Erick W. Rasco/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images
John Ourand
May 20, 2024

Under Sean McManus’s nearly three-decade tenure, CBS Sports was known for stability, boasting the longest and deepest relationships in the business. And as I’ve noted in the past, this was also the leitmotif of McManus’s drama-free succession plan. David Berson, who ascended to the top job last month after his old boss’s retirement, had been McManus’s heir apparent for some 13 years, fully ensconced in one of the industry’s great partnerships.

But as Berson prepared for his first town hall meeting as president and C.E.O., he realized that this stability now seemed uncertain. Staffers were understandably anxious about Shari Redstone’s enigmatic auction process for Paramount Global, the future of the linear business, and the increasingly exorbitant market for live sports rights. During a one-hour presentation, Berson reminded his 600 or so charges that they’d need to remain focused on what they could control while staying aggressive in the rights landscape. “The message was continuity and stability, but with eyes wide open on all the challenges that we all face as part of this changing industry,” Berson told me about two weeks later, over lunch at a quiet Italian restaurant on West 57th Street, his first interview in his new job. “We have all of our marquee rights locked up for a long time. But the fans of today consume stuff very differently from the fans of yesterday, so we need to make sure that our brand and our content is as relevant for those fans moving forward as it has always been.”