Jeff Shell Re-Shapes NBCUniversal in First Big Moves as CEO

Brian Steinberg

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NBCUniversal unveiled a sweeping new re-organization that breaks down walls between divisions devoted to TV and to news, gives new duties to two top executives, and prompts a third to leave the company.

The Comcast-owned media conglomerate will put broadcast and cable operations under a single executive, Mark Lazarus, while combining CNBC with NBC News and MSNBC under Cesar CondeAndy Lack, the chairman of NBC News and MSNBC, will step down as a result.

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The moves are among the first structural changes mandated by Jeff Shell, who took over as CEO of the company earlier this year.

Lazarus will take oversight of the NBC broadcast and cable networks and production operations, as well as Peacock, the company’s new streaming-video service, while maintaining oversight of NBC Sports and the company’s stations. Conde will supervise not only NBC News and MSNBC, but also CNBC, which has for the past several years operated independently. Lack, who returned to NBCUniversal in 2015 for a second tour as head of NBC News, is slated to depart at the end of the month. The new moves, NBCU said, will be effective immediately.

“This is the right structure to lead NBCUniversal into the future during this transformational time in the industry,” said Shell, in a prepared statement. ” NBCUniversal declined to make any of its executives available for comment.

Like its rivals – Walt Disney Co., ViacomCBS, Fox Corp. and WarnerMedia – NBCUniversal and Comcast are grappling with a perfect storm of onerous conditions due to the coronavirus pandemic. Advertisers are pulling back on spending. Big sports events, including NBCU’s planned telecast of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and its coverage of the NHL season, are suspended or delayed. And theme parks, like the ones NBCU operates in Florida, are closed.

NBCUniversal’s financial performance in the first quarter was crimped by revenue shortfalls in its theme park and movie studio operations, while the company’s cable and TV assets saw early erosion of advertising revenue. Revenue in the period fell 7% to $7.7 billion, compared with $8.3 billion in the year-earlier period.

Shell had hinted at big changes in store for the company last week, during a call with investors in NBCU’s parent company, Comcast. “The question about whether we’re right sized on costs given where the environment is headed, the answer is probably no, and we’re addressing that pretty aggressively,” he said, adding: ” Over the next weeks and months, we’ll make pretty significant adjustments there across our business.”

The moves eliminate arbitrary separations between NBCU’s various units, placing broadcast and cable networks under a single executive’s oversight, and the company’s news assets under another.

In a different era, cable networks and broadcast mainstays were managed separately. With hits like “E.R.,” “Friends” and “Frasier,” the NBC network generated millions of dollars in ad revenue with its primetime schedule, while cable networks like USA and MSNBC catered to specific niches. As TV audiences have splintered around an array of viewing activities, including on-demand streaming, however, live viewership for all those outlets has fallen. The media companies that own them have been left to manage audiences with more finesse, hoping that a live airing of an episode of, say, “This Is Us” or “The Tonight Show” spurs a longer train of activity around streaming video catch ups and binge sessions and pass-around of clips on social media.  On Monday, NBCUniversal is slated to hold a meeting with advertisers detailing its plans to treat all video as one available across a single platform, hoping to entice Madison Avenue to purchase packages of commercial inventory across NBC, Peacock and the company’s various cable and digital holdings.

Likewise, CNBC has been run independently from NBC News and MSNBC  for years by its president, Mark Hoffman, who managed to carve out a line of report directly to Steve Burke, NBCU’s former CEO. Now Hoffman, NBC News President Noah Oppenheim and MSNBC President Phil Griffin will report to Conde, a veteran executive who has had significant roles at Univision and run NBCU’s international business as well as its Telemundo Spanish-language broadcast operations. NBCU said a new Telemundo leader will be named at a later date.

The maneuvers also suggest Shell has ideas for NBCUniversal that are different from Burke’s. Burke in early 2019 told Variety in an interview that he envisioned seeing Oppenheim succeed Lack as chairman of NBC News and MSNBC upon Lack’s retirement. Indeed, Oppenheim signed a new contract with NBCUniversal last year, and insiders expected the NBC News President to take over for Lack when he stepped down, presumably after the 2020 election.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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