For the second time in two weeks, a three-decade Viacom veteran is departing the network she has overseen for more than 10 years.
The company announced today that Cyma Zarghami is leaving as president of Nickelodeon Group. Sarah Levy, COO of Viacom Media Networks, will lead Nickelodeon on an interim basis as the search begins for Zarghami’s successor.
“Over the course of her career, Cyma has played an integral role in growing Nickelodeon into the dominant force in kids’ entertainment. Her instincts for creating content and experiences that kids love have been vital to the brand’s success around the world,” Viacom president and CEO Bob Bakish said in statement. “Looking to the future, we are excited to build on this strong foundation as we continue to evolve the business and connect with young audiences in new and innovative ways.”
The move comes as Viacom is in the middle of this year’s upfront negotiations.
Zarghami joined Nickelodeon in 1985 and has served as its president since 2006. She helped turn Nickelodeon into a brand that includes linear, retail, location-based entertainment, social and mobile expansions and theatricals with Paramount.
“We are really building an ecosystem that allows this brand to survive in any expansion of media,” Zarghami told Adweek in March.
In the past year alone, Nickelodeon expanded to Broadway, with the hit SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical, and this weekend is bringing the Nickelodeon SlimeFest music festival to the U.S. for the first time, holding the two-day festival for kids and families in Chicago.
Nickelodeon is the No. 1 network this year for kids 2-11 and kids 6-11, and has been the top-rated kids basic cable network for 22 years, but Bakish admitted during an earnings call in February that the network has had some “ratings softness.” He said Nickelodeon is addressing the declines by ramping up its marketing and social video strategy, and expanding into live events.
Less than two weeks ago, another longtime Viacom vet announced her departure, as BET CEO Debra Lee left the company after 32 years.
With Zarghami’s exit, the chiefs at almost all of Viacom’s cable networks have changed hands in the past few years, including the heads of MTV, Comedy Central, VH1, BET, CMT and TV Land.
Zarghami’s future at Nickelodeon had been the subject of speculation since February, when Bakish gave Levy oversight of operations and strategy for BET and Nickelodeon.
During February’s earnings call, Bakish said there had been “no change in leadership” at Nickelodeon, and the move was about “shared support structure” and extending Levy’s responsibilities to Nickelodeon and BET.
When asked by Adweek one day before Nickelodeon’s upfront event in March whether she had any messages to clients and advertisers about her future at the network, Zarghami said only, “Well, I’ll be there tomorrow!” and laughed. But she declined to comment further.
Zarghami appeared alongside the other network presidents at Viacom Digital Studios’ first NewFronts presentation in April, where she enthusiastically spoke with Adweek about Nickelodeon’s upcoming events, including its revival of Double Dare.