CBS digital chief stepping down; plans new firm

NEW YORK Wed Oct 28, 2009 6:54pm EDT

NEW YORK (Reuters) - CBS Corp on Wednesday announced the departure of the head of its digital business, Quincy Smith, who was brought on board by the media company three years ago to much fanfare.

Smith will start a new advisory business when he steps down as chief executive officer of CBS Interactive at the end of this year. CBS will become a client.

CBS Corp Chief Executive Les Moonves said the digital business would be run by Neil Ashe, who served as president of CNET until CBS purchased the web network for $1.8 billion in 2008. Smith oversaw that deal, the biggest during his tenure at CBS.

"We won't miss a beat," Moonves said in an interview.

Moonves said that CBS's digital business is now completely integrated into the company, which includes a broadcast network as well as radio and an outdoor advertising business.

Of those, the digital business was the only one to show revenue growth in the first six months of the year, nearly tripling to $260 million, largely thanks to CNET and its roster of sites like GameSpot.com and TV.com.

Still, critics have questioned the timing of the CNET deal, which was announced in May 2008, before the worst of an economic crisis bloodied the media business.

But Moonves has defended the deal, and credited it on Wednesday with helping to make CBS "a major player in the interactive space, which I thought was essential for a large media company to continue to grow."

"We think we're in tremendous shape for the future," he said, adding that other big digital deals were unlikely for CBS.

Smith, who joined CBS in 2006, will start serving as an advisor in January. Among other things, he is likely to work with the company on finding ways to make more from web video, given CBS's substantial library of content.

Smith previously worked at Allen & Co, an investment bank, and helped found the Barksdale Group, a venture capital firm.

(Reporting by Paul Thomasch; editing by John Wallace and carol Bishopric)

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