Friday, November 19, 2010

Comcast-NBCU Structure Made Official

By Jon Lafayette -- Broadcasting & Cable

Comcast announced the new executive lineup that will run NBC Universal when its acquisition is finally approved.

The lineup includes a few new faces, in addition to current NBC and Comcast executives who will be reporting to Steve Burke, the Comcast COO who will become CEO of NBC Universal.

Key newcomers to the company include Bob Greenblatt, formerly with Showtime, who becomes chairman of NBC Entertainment and will be responsible for trying to revive the Peacock network's struggling primetime lineup; Pat Fili-Krushel, formerly with Time Warner and ABC, who becomes executive VP of NBC Universal; and Adam Miller, formerly with PR firm Abernathy MacGregor Group, who will be executive VP, corporate affairs.

Previously, Jeff Zucker, now NBCU's CEO, Jeff Gaspin, president of NBC Universal Television, and communication chief Allison Gollust said they were leaving the company. Advertising president Mike Pilot will also be leaving the company.

In a memo, Burke said "we are beginning our leadership announcements now because with the anticipated close of the deal nearing, we want to give everyone enough time to begin to think about the specific opportunities and challenges they will face beginning the day of the close."

Burke added: "This is particularly true for areas that have transition work to complete before we close. While new roles won't be effective until the deal closes, and while there will be more announcements to come, it is important that we are prepared to hit the ground running."

Former NBC execs reporting directly to Burke are: cable programming executives Bonnie Hammer and Lauren Zalaznick, NBC News/MSNBC President Steve Capus; CNBC President Mark Hoffman; Dick Ebersol, who become chairman of the NBC Sports Group; Ron Meyer, president of COO of Universal Studios; Lynn Calpeter executive VP and CFO; General Counsel Rick Cotton and Paula Madison, executive VP for diversity.

Former Comcast execs reporting to Burke are: Ted Harbert, who becomes chairman of NBC Broadcasting; Matt Bond, who becomes executive VP, content distribution; Jeff Shell, who becomes chairman of NBC Universal International and Page Thompson, who becomes executive VP, strategic integration responsible for identifying possible synergies between Comcast, NBC, Universal Studios and Parks and the cable channels.

At NBC Entertainment, Marc Graboff and Angela Bromstad will be reporting to Greenblatt.

At NBC Broadcasting, Harbert will be responsible for broadcast advertising sales and affiliate relations. Syndication boss Barry Wallach, digital head Vivi Zigler and station group topper John Wallace will report to Harbert.

In cable programming, Hammer and Zalaznick, portrayed as dueling divas even before the Comcast deal was announced, both have added duties. Hammer , who becomes chairman, NBC Universal Cable Entertainment and Cable Studios, will be responsible for USA, Syfy, E! Entertainment, G4, Chiller, Sleuth, Universal HD and UCP (Universal Cable Productions). Neil Tiles remains President of G4, reporting to Hammer, who will be hiring a new president for E! Entertainment to succeed Harbert.

Zalaznick, named Chairman, NBC Universal Entertainment & Digital Networks and Integrated Media, will continue to oversee Bravo, Oxygen, iVillage and the Integrated Strategic Marketing Group, and digital properties Daily Candy and Fandango, Spanish language broadcaster Telemundo, and cable networks mun2 and Style. Joint venture PBS Sprout will also report to Zalaznick. Reporting to Zalaznick will be Telemundo president Don Browne (Jackie Hernandez continues as chief operating officer of Telemundo), Salaam Coleman Smith of Style and Chuck Davis of Fandango and Daily Candy.

In advertising, responsibility for broadcast and cable have been divided. Marianne Gambelli, who had been president of advertising for NBC, becomes President, NBC Network Advertising sales and reports to Harbert. Dave Cassaro, who had been president of ad sales for Comcast Networks, becomes president cable advertising sales and will report to Hammer and Zalaznick. Reporting to Cassaro are Steve Mandala, Peter Naylor and Mike Rodriguez. Both broadcast and cable sales had previously reported to Pilot.

In Sports, Ebersol will have NBC Sports, The Golf Channel, Versus and the Comcast Regional Sports Networks, with RSN chief Jon Litner, Versus president Jamie Davis and the Golf Channel's Earl Marshall reporting to him.

In distribution, NBCU execs Bridget Baker and JB Perrette will report to Bond.

In administration, Fili-Krushel's responsibilities will include business strategy, human resources, legal and Media Works. Reporting to her are Salil Mehta, who continues as president of business operations, strategy and development for NBC, and John Eck, president of Media Works General Counsel Rick Cotton, will report to Fili-Krushel as well as Burke.

Also Ed Swindler, who had been COO of ad sales, will report to CFO Calpeter and be involved in company-wide sales efforts.

"The team described above will not begin to operate the company until after the transaction closes, which will occur following regulatory approval," Burke said in his memo. "Between now and then, each business will continue to be managed by its respective leadership team, and NBC Universal will continue to be led by Jeff Zucker, whose talent, hard work and commitment have been instrumental in building NBC Universal into the company it is today."

Deal Critics Call Comcast NBCU Pre Merger Staff Moves Premature

Some groups critical of the proposed Comcast/NBC Universal joint venture are also criticizing pre-merger personnel moves by the two companies in anticipation that the deal will be approved by regulators.

The first big move after the naming of Steve Burke to succeed Jeff Zucker at NBC Universal came Monday with the official word, from NBC Universal TV group head Jeff Gaspin himself, that Burke had indicated he wanted to go in a different direction and Gaspin would be exiting "a short time after the merger."

Asked before the Gaspin announcement about their reaction in general to pre-merger moves by Comcast's Burke, a couple of public interest group representatives signaled they thought it was premature.

"It seems a bit hasty for Comcast to start measuring the drapes given that it has not yet won approval to acquire NBCU from either the DOJ or the FCC," said Free Press Policy Counsel Corie Wright. "It is especially premature given that, by all accounts, both those agencies appear to have significant concerns about the deal, including the combined-company's ability to squash emerging competition in the online video market."

"Our view is that merger applicants make personnel changes like this at their peril," said Public Knowledge spokesman Art Brodsky, "and these changes shouldn't be used to try to force the Commission to alter its review process.... We wouldn't want the commission to speed up its processes, for example, based on the idea that personnel changes are being made."

A source familiar with Comcast's moves said it was pretty common to announce a leadership team before a deal closes so it would be ready to go, adding that was particularly the case in creative industries so that people outside the company will know who they need to be dealing with when contracts come up for renewal or pilots need to be greenlighted.

Burke is slated to become the CEO of NBCU if and when the deal is approved by regulators. Even some deal critics have suggested the $30 billion joint venture is likely to be approved, though also likely with conditions -- either codifying what the two companies have promised in public interest commitments and side deals with various groups, adding the governments own conditions on access to programming, competition, and perhaps online content, or some combination of the two.

The FCC review process has an informal end date of nine days from today (Nov. 15), but that is according to its unofficial shot clock, which the FCC has overshot on numerous occasions.

Various industry deal-watchers are looking for something from the Department of Justice in early December, followed in short order by the FCC's decision. Justice looks at competition in terms of antitrust issues, while the FCC looks more broadly at the impact of the deal both on the competitive marketplace and the public interest.

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