Zucker Gets NBCU President, CEO Roles

Feb 6, 2007  •  Post A Comment

It’s official: Jeff Zucker is the new president and CEO of NBC Universal.

Bob Wright, his predecessor who has run NBC since General Electric purchased it in 1986, will remain a vice chairman of GE. Until May 1, Mr. Wright will remain the chairman of the NBC Universal board of directors.

GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt, who will succeed Mr. Wright as NBCU chairman, made the announcement Tuesday.

Mr. Zucker will not be replaced as NBCU Television Group CEO. On a conference call Tuesday afternoon, he said the company plans to announce a few organizational changes shortly. Those shifts will probably involve NBCU Television West Coast President Marc Graboff, cable chief Jeff Gaspin, and NBCU digital and marketing President Beth Comstock.

NBCU Entertainment President Kevin Reilly, who quelled the once pesky rumors he would be fired with an improved 2006-2007 prime time lineup, is negotiating to extend his contract.

Mr. Immelt said Mr. Zucker won the top NBCU job because he liked the way the executive led people and handled change. Asked to respond to the observation that the problems confronting NBCU were created on Mr. Zucker’s watch, Mr. Immelt said Mr. Zucker had shown the right stuff through ups and downs.

“I like watching people go through cycles,” the chairman said. “You don’t hire people for what they know today [but for] how fast they can learn and how fast they can change.”

Broadcast Ratings

The NBC broadcast network’s prime-time ratings slip in recent years and its revenue performance was “not attributable to one or 2 people,” Mr. Immelt said.

“I like the team on the West Coast,” he said of NBC’s entertainment executives. “They’re taking the right risks.”

Mr. Immelt said that after “a flattish 2006,” prime-time ratings and the revenues that stem from them, are improving at NBC. He predicted that earnings will grow between 5 and 10 percent in 2007.

“We’re making good consistent progress. This business made about a billion and a half pretax in 2000 and will make more than $3 billion this year,” he said. “I like the trajectory.”

Mr. Immelt also said a spinoff of NBCU is not envisioned by GE, which believes the entertainment unit is well-positioned for the next few years.

“We like the business,” he said.

Wright’s Legacy

The announcement had been expected after a meeting of the sprawling multimedia empire’s board Tuesday morning.

However, Mr. Wright, who has run NBC since General Electric purchased it in 1986, broke the news in an internal e-mail that said “the time has come for me to hand over the reins.”

Mr. Wright built NBC from a broadcast network into a company that includes cable networks, TV and film studios, and theme parks. Mr. Zucker, 41, began his speed of light ascent as an NBC sports researcher and then moved to the “Today” show. He became executive producer in 1994 of the powerful morning show, which proved to be his launching pad to taking over the network’s entertainment division in 2001

He became Mr. Wright’s No. 2 executive in late 2005.

Mr. Wright, 63, recounted the highlights of his NBC reign in his e-mail: “So you can understand why I am so proud of this company and what we have accomplished over the years. And why it is with such mixed emotions that I now end my two decades at the helm. But the time is right. We have good momentum, a deep bench of experienced leaders, and, in Jeff, a skilled executive who knows this company inside and out, and has the right mix of business knowledge, programming savvy, and marketing creativity to lead NBC Universal into a bright new era.”

In the announcement that followed Mr. Wright’s farewell message, Mr. Immelt said, “By any measure, Bob is one of the most successful media executives ever.”

Mr. Zucker will have responsibility for the strategic direction and operations of all NBC Universal properties.

“Jeff Zucker is a terrific talent and the right person to guide NBC Universal on the next stage of its growth,” Mr. Immelt said. “In the past few years, Jeff has shown that he is an energetic, focused leader who can rise to a challenge. His creative experience, expertise in news and broadcasting and intense passion for the business were immensely appealing to the board and to me during this succession process. We have real business momentum, and the time is right to make this important transition. I like the team we have in place today, and believe that the future for NBCU is bright.”

Mr. Zucker praised the man he is replacing.

“Bob has been a terrific mentor to me throughout my career, and I am honored to be his successor and fortunate to assume responsibility of a company that is so well positioned for future growth,” Mr. Zucker said. “I’ve spent my entire career at NBC and had the privilege to work with the best in the business every day. I look forward to continuing to work with this talented management team as we take NBC Universal to the next level.”

(Editor: Baumann)