Zucker Hands TV Baton to NBC Universal Veterans

Feb 19, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Three executives moved to the fore at NBC Universal’s television unit last week, tapped by new company CEO Jeffrey Zucker to help run the business. Beth Comstock rose to president of Integrated Media, Jeff Gaspin was named president of Cable and Digital Content and Marc Graboff took on a wider range of duties as the West Coast president of NBCU’s TV operations.

The ascendant executives all gained new responsibilities. Mr. Zucker said the changes, necessitated by his rise from president of NBC Universal’s TV group, are meant to help the company adjust to rapidly changing media landscape.

Beth Comstock

As president of NBC Universal Integrated Media, Ms. Comstock is in charge of finding ways to provide what marketers want-at a time when their advertising options are multiplying.

Ms. Comstock, previously president of digital media and marketing development, also assumes oversight of television advertising sales, a department run by another recent transplant from parent General Electric, Mike Pilot.

Once the leader in ad sales because of its dominant prime-time schedule, NBC has struggled as its ratings have slipped. Now, like the other networks, NBC must deal with marketers asking harder questions about whether the money they pay for commercials is well spent.

“Marketers are reinventing their organizations. They’re asking for their agencies and their media partners to help them like never before,” Ms. Comstock said.

NBCU’s response has been to “align the right set of resources, take our digital insights that we’re getting through our digital development team and share those with our marketing partners,” she said.

To better do that, the company put its strategic marketing and content innovation unit, headed by Barbara Blangiardi, under Mr. Pilot.

In last year’s upfront, NBCU began to pitch its TV360 concept, with digital content accompanying its television shows. This year the network will be doing more of that, Ms. Comstock said.

The strong market for scatter advertising after a pallid upfront suggests that clients still rely on TV to build brands. Clearly, more money is being spent on digital media but that doesn’t mean digital is draining ad money from traditional TV.

With marketers looking for more ways to get their messages out, “The good news for us is that we’ve got a lot to offer,” Ms. Comstock said. “Mass media and niche, both of them are important. We can be more nimble. And we can combine our assets in very creative ways that help marketers meet their objectives.”

-Jon Lafayette

Jeff Gaspin

Now that he runs both the creative and distribution sides of NBC Universal’s cable networks business, Jeff Gaspin, president of Cable and Digital Content, expects the two groups to be more cohesive and to exploit opportunities for growth.

“When you have two leaders, inevitably you have two sets of opinions, and there’s two sets of meetings and all those things that go along with two structures,” said Mr. Gaspin, who was named president of cable and digital content. “So I think in that regard we can simplify things and hopefully respond to the marketplace faster.”

Mr. Gaspin sees the biggest growth opportunities for cable coming from NBCU’s emerging networks Sleuth and Chiller. He also expects growth from high-definition TV, and mobile and broadband technologies.

Mr. Gaspin said NBCU has found success offering programs online, part of a strategy to provide content where and when consumers want it. The digital market has become less chaotic, and some solid business models are emerging, he said.

Full-episode downloads are one of the company’s biggest revenue generators online and they anchor the most popular parts of its Web sites, Mr. Gaspin said.

Finding ways to generate money with traditional shows has proved simpler than doing so with original Web content. Half-hour sitcoms or hour dramas done on the cheap probably won’t work online, he said.

Since it became evident that Mr. Zucker was going to rise to the top NBCU job, people have been asking what role Mr. Gaspin would play. With Mr. Gaspin’s role established, people have been asking about the future roles of Bonnie Hammer, who runs USA and Sci Fi, and Lauren Zalaznick, who’s in charge of Bravo. Mr. Gaspin says there’s nothing in the cards at the moment.

“I think they continue to be passionate about what they do,” he said. “They’re pretty excited about what the next couple of years have in store for them.”

-Jon Lafayette

Marc Graboff

Marc Graboff’s expanded role with NBC’s West Coast television operations gives the longtime business affairs executive oversight of the company’s top creative chiefs for the first time.

NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly, NBC Universal Television Studio President Angela Bromstad and NBC Agency President John Miller will all report directly to Mr. Graboff, instead of to Mr. Zucker.

The move aligns three elements of NBC-the entertainment division, the television studio and the network’s promotion arm-under a single executive. Mr. Graboff will retain purview over the business, financial and operations departments.

Mr. Graboff said his new role is to support the executives who report to him and help NBC continue to gain ratings momentum-without interfering with creative decisions.

“I don’t consider myself a creative executive,” Mr. Graboff said. “We’ve got great creative people and they don’t need me to come sit in on casting sessions with them. I’m here to help them.”

One way Mr. Graboff said he can assist his creative team is through his dealmaking experience. “I’ve developed pretty good relationships with producers, and can help with going after top talent,” he said.

Mr. Graboff is also interested in bringing advertisers into the development process earlier, both for product integration and for more subtle partnerships.

With all the recent executive changes at NBC Universal, one puzzle piece has not yet been announced-whether Mr. Reilly will renew his contract as entertainment president.

Mr. Graboff said Mr. Reilly would lose none of his current independence.

“We are big supporters of Kevin Reilly and want him to be a part of this organization for a long time,” Mr. Graboff said. “He knows I’m not going to be at the upfront elbowing him off the podium. I’m not that guy.”

-James Hibberd