NBC Universal Takes Shape

Apr 26, 2004  •  Post A Comment

The television industry tried to make sense of the unexpected upheavals at NBC and Universal’s syndication divisions late last week as the Peacock quietly hammered out new deals for key executives in the broadcast and cable departments. The moves were made in preparation for the imminent acquisition of the U.S. entertainment assets of Vivendi Universal.
Universal Domestic Television President Steve Rosenberg’s future with the merged giants was expected to be determined by April 26, contrary to reports late last week that he had resigned last Thursday. Reports had surfaced that Mr. Rosenberg wasn’t happy with the offer he received to oversee domestic distribution. The job had been offered to NBC Enterprises President Ed Wilson, who did resign last Thursday.
While speculation about the syndie divisions swirled, decision-making among the companies’ television production, international distribution, cable and ad sales ranks was quietly under way. Among the movements:
* International distribution at NBC Enterprises will fall to Universal’s co-president of distribution Belinda Menendez, according to sources.
* Insiders said NBC has given David Kissinger, president of Universal Television Productions, a one-year contract to join Angela Bromstead, executive VP of NBC Studios, as co-head of NBC Studios.
* Sources also said Bravo president and executive VP of NBC’s reality programming Jeff Gaspin will oversee cable and maintain his duties in the reality genre.
* Chris Kager, president of MGM/NBC Media Sales, is likely to leave following the merger. Media executives believe the division will be dissolved or at least merged with Universal’s advertising sales division, headed by Elizabeth Herbst, executive VP of advertising sales for Universal Domestic Television.
* Separately, Keith Turner, president of advertising sales for NBC, has been interviewing all USA Network’s advertising sales staff. Executives close to the companies say the mood at USA Networks, the Universal cable group that includes USA Network, Sci Fi and Trio, isn’t good-with the knowledge that a significant number of advertising jobs will be lost at USA Network in the merger with NBC. Jeff Lucas, president of advertising sales for USA Networks, had worked for NBC before coming to USA, running the network’s Olympics advertising sales group. NBC, however, said USA Network advertising executives should have little fear. “There won’t be that many jobs cuts at all,” said a NBC spokeswoman. She declined to give any detail.
On the syndie side, stories last week about a contentious exit by Mr. Rosenberg are somewhat off-base, sources said. Although he wasn’t happy with the offer he received to oversee domestic distribution, he had not taken himself out the running for the job as of last Friday.
Mr. Rosenberg renewed his contract last year and still has two years remaining, making it difficult to go elsewhere, especially to another syndicator. In addition, he handpicked much of the staff he inherited at Universal and may not want to leave them with an uncertain future. Clearly, the departure of Mr. Wilson and possibly Mr. Rosenberg leaves a hole at the division. Mr. Wilson oversaw the creation of NBC Enterprises four years ago.
“Ed has done a terrific job creating and growing NBC Enterprises for us,” said Jeff Zucker, president of NBC Entertainment, News and Cable. “He has now decided the time is right to pursue other opportunities. I am grateful for his contributions and we wish him the best in the future.”
Spokespersons at Universal and NBC would not comment on the situation, but Mr. Rosenberg’s and NBC’s final decision could come down Monday. If the two parties opt to part ways, some rumors have Mr. Rosenberg going to work with Barry Diller in unspecified capacities.
Mr. Rosenberg has run Universal’s syndie operations since January 1998-soon after Barry Diller acquired Universal’s TV properties and renamed them Studios USA. Mr. Rosenberg has been with Universal since 1986, when he joined as a sales executive in the Northeast office.
Other early candidates mentioned throughout the industry who could qualify to take the position are Lions Gate President of Worldwide Distribution Ira Bernstein, former Big Ticket Television President Larry Lyttle and syndication veteran Mort Marcus. However, many sources said NBC could easily end up restructuring the division from within and assigning it to an executive from another division.
Whoever inherits the syndication job will get more than 200 employees from Universal and 50-plus from NBC. Sources said that once the two divisions are merged, the new president will likely target a final tally of 200 employees, with 50 likely to lose jobs. However, that could change depending on the new president of the company.