Turf Realignment Expected at NBCU

Dec 11, 2006  •  Post A Comment

This week is expected to bring a sequel to the management changes made last week in the NBC Universal Television Group.

The biggest item of business will be to realign the turf that had been assigned to David Zaslav, the former president of NBC Universal Cable and Domestic TV and New Media Distribution, who exited the company to become chairman and CEO of Discovery Communications.

Jeff Gaspin, president of NBC Universal Cable entertainment, digital content and cross-network strategy, is expected to take on a bigger role in this week’s management shuffle.

All this movement in the upper echelons comes as NBCU is trying to stage a comeback after a dearth of television hits shrank its audiences and advertising revenue, costing its broadcast network and owned stations as much as $1 billion in ad sales and other income. The network is experiencing a ratings spike as NBCU Television Group CEO Jeff Zucker executes a plan to trim 700 jobs and $750 million in spending.

One of the consequences of the loss of three executives is the big bucks it will take off the bottom line.

Mr. Gaspin will move up in a team comprising mostly NBCU veterans well known to Mr. Zucker, who lost Mr. Zaslav and two other top executives in the last two weeks of November.

The well-regarded Randy Falco, who had spent his professional life at NBC, decided he would rather be chairman and CEO of AOL than be Mr. Zucker’s No. 2 executive. Mr. Zaslav’s exit notice followed a day later.

The following week, after widely swirling rumors that he would leave, NBCU ad sales president Keith Turner was pushed out. Mr. Turner was succeeded by Michael Pilot, who has been with NBCU parent GE for four years and was president and CEO of GE’s Equipment Finance Group.

In a speech to Wall Street analysts the day of Mr. Pilot’s appointment, Mr. Zucker downplayed Mr. Pilot’s lack of experience selling commercial time on TV and focused on his confidence that the combination of Mr. Pilot’s “new ideas” and a seasoned sales team would work well.

Mr. Pilot’s right-hand salesman will be Ed Swindler, who had been rumored on the way out with Mr. Turner but instead was promoted to the new position of executive VP and chief operating officer of the sales division. Mr. Swindler is well respected inside and outside NBC. He will report to Mr. Pilot and to Executive VP and Chief Financial Officer Lynn Calpeter.

NBCU Universal TV Stations President Jay Ireland, himself a GE executive with no TV background when he arrived in 1999 to run the NBC-owned TV stations, has picked up additional responsibilities with Telemundo and NBC network affiliations and operations now reporting to him. Mr. Pilot also will have some oversight of sales in both divisions.

Mr. Ireland, whose new duties used to be under the purview of Mr. Falco, will report to Mr. Zucker. The Telemundo stations group, which had reported to Mr. Ireland, now will report to Telemundo President Don Browne.

NBCU Television President Marc Graboff was given oversight of domestic TV distribution, which had reported to Mr. Zaslav.

Mr. Pilot will share responsibilities for digital ad sales with Beth Comstock, president of digital media and market development.

In other changes, John Eck, president of NBCU Media Works and the company’s chief information officer, along with business development executive VP Bruce Campbell, who previously reported to Falco, now will report to NBC Chairman and CEO Bob Wright.

Communications executive VP Cory Shields now will report to Mr. Wright rather than to Ms. Comstock.