NBCUniversal’s vast television group is bracing for a significant downsizing as part of the pending layoffs that are expected to hit next month.
A plan for layoffs and restructuring of operations have been signaled recently by newly appointed NBCU CEO Jeff Shell. Multiple sources said division heads in TV, including NBCU Television and Streaming chairman Mark Lazarus and NBCUniversal Content Studios chairman Bonnie Hammer have been evaluating production, programming, marketing and distribution operations in light of a fast-changing market for content.
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At NBCU’s film studio Universal Pictures, global operations are also expected to take a hit.
The downsizing and restructuring has been compared by sources to the recent retooling of the NBC News division. Three separate arms of Lazarus’ TV group could be combined into one, eliminating dozens of jobs at all levels, according to multiple sources close to the discussions.
These groups include NBC Entertainment, which encompasses primetime and daytime scripted programming under chairman Paul Telegdy; lifestyle networks including Bravo Media, E! Entertainment, Oxygen Media and Universal Kids under president Frances Berwick; and cablers USA and SyFy, under entertainment networks president Chris McCumber.
An NBCUniversal spokesperson declined to comment.
Numerous company insiders told Variety it was still uncertain who might lead the thinned-out operation. Berwick and McCumber have long resumes in cable but no high-level programming experience in broadcast TV (although Berwick worked at the U.K.’s Channel 4 earlier in her career) in taking the reins of a group that would include NBC.
Telegdy, meanwhile, has been the architect of some of NBC’s biggest hits — unscripted pillars like “The Voice” and “America’s Got Talent” — over his 12 years at NBC to date. But he’s also become involved in a public fight with former “AGT” judge Gabrielle Union. Union filed a labor department complaint, often the precursor to a lawsuit, detailing a series of racist incidents throughout her time on the show. She also accused Telegdy of threats and attempting to silence her thought her agent at CAA, which Telegdy strongly denied.
A combining of Berwick, McCumber, and Telegdy’s units would potentially see multiple redundancies created in areas such as scheduling, marketing and programming.
Meanwhile, Hammer is expected to remain in her post as the top executive overseeing TV content production for entertainment and lifestyle networks. But NBCU appears poised to pare down its production imprints, which include Universal Television, Universal Content Productions and NBCUniversal International Studios.
Hammer has been holding a series of meetings within Universal Television and UCP in recent months, discussing finances and creative performance with individual teams, added another insider familiar with the process.
At Universal Pictures, leadership is taking a hard look at redundancies across the operation — which could manifest as cuts in global teams, said one source. Universal is one of the remaining majors to have strong international arms as opposed to centralized teams handling film rollouts. While no specifics have been decided, the foreign teams could be vulnerable, said the source.
The cuts, expected by mid-August, were all but promised by Shell in May in his remarks to investors following NBCU parent company Comcast’s latest quarterly earnings report.
“On costs, 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,” Shell said. “And certainly over the next weeks and months, we’ll make pretty significant adjustments there across our business,” he added.
An NBCUniversal source told Variety that the company is, like many other U.S. businesses, looking at cost efficiencies, but added that no final decisions have yet been made.
NBCUniversal is not alone in its pursuit of staff cuts, cost savings and restructuring plans as the coronavirus social distancing mandates continue to ravage the American economy. Film and television production has ground to a halt, affecting billions in box office revenue and the pipeline of finished content for fall TV season. WarnerMedia and Disney are among the other entertainment giants known to be in belt-tightening mode.
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