Shell will take the reins on January 1, 2020, according to a press release, reporting to Burke. After Burke steps down on August 14, 2020, Shell will report directly to Comcast CEO Brian Roberts.
The announcement came several days after insiders confirmed the major change atop the media company. The overall media business has been in a state of flux as streaming alters the longtime focus on traditional TV and film distribution. After a burst of M&A activity in the past year or two, and major new streaming launches by Disney, WarnerMedia, NBCU and Apple in various stages of release, organizational charts are being revamped across the industry. Along with Shell replacing Burke, WarnerMedia is also looking for a permanent CEO, Viacom and CBS have just combined and Disney is approaching a crossroads as CEO Bob Iger plans to exit in 2021.
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Burke, 61, has not indicated what his next move may be. His exit comes at an inflection point for Comcast, which will launch its Peacock streaming service in April and broadcast another Olympic Games next summer. While he denied he was leaning toward an exit at the time, Burke oversaw a reorganization in January 2019 that established Shell and Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBCU broadcast, cable, sports and news, as the two main candidates to replace him.
“I cannot thank Steve enough for the incredible impact he has had on this entire company,” Roberts said. “I will miss Steve’s trusted partnership, and I know I speak for both myself and my late father, Ralph, when I say that we will be forever grateful to him for shaping first Comcast and then NBCUniversal into the great companies they are today. When Comcast acquired NBCUniversal in 2011, I never imagined it would become the fastest growing media company. Steve’s leadership and the team that he built has had everything to do with this outstanding performance.”
Roberts called Shell “the ideal executive to take the helm at NBCUniversal. He has a stellar track record across both the film and TV side of the business, as well as a wealth of international experience. I have worked closely with Jeff for many years and he is an extraordinary leader who inspires loyalty, delivers strong results and cares deeply about our company, its employees and partners.”
Burke led NBCU through a period of transformation as Comcast became its fifth owner in barely more than a decade, soon proving doubters wrong and affording genuine stability to the entertainment unit. NBC and Universal Pictures each staged significant comebacks as the 2010s unfolded, helping total annual revenue increase from $21.1 billion in 2011 to $35.8 billion in 2018.
Before getting the top job at NBCU, Burke had been COO at Comcast and spent 11 years heading its cable division. His father, Daniel Burke, was a media executive, running Capital Cities Communications, which bought ABC in 1985 and was then acquired a decade later by Disney. The younger Burke also had an executive stint at Disney, serving as president of ABC and COO of Euro Disney.
“It has been a privilege to work so closely with Brian for the last 22 years, and particularly to have had the opportunity to lead NBCUniversal for the last nine,” Burke said. “This is a very special company and I am proud of the people I have worked with and the things we have accomplished together. While this has been a dream job, it has always been my plan to hand off the baton at the right moment and move on to the next chapter of my life where I can pursue a different set of interests. It is great to know I am leaving the company in terrific hands with Jeff, who is the right leader to usher in the next phase of growth and success for NBCUniversal.”
Shell said it is “truly an honor to step into this role, and I am excited that Brian and the Comcast board are giving me the incredible opportunity to help steer the future of NBCUniversal. I’m sincerely grateful to Steve, who has been an amazing boss and mentor for the last 15 years and leaves behind an extraordinary legacy of visionary leadership and success. I look forward to building on this strong track record and partnering with the many talented leaders across the company.”
For the past year, Shell has overseen NBCU’s film and network television businesses, including NBC Entertainment, Universal Filmed Entertainment Group (UFEG), Telemundo and NBCUniversal International. Previously, as chairman of NBCUniversal International, Shell ran international TV distribution, production and networks.
Shell came to NBCU after six years working at Comcast. He led its programming group, managing national and regional networks including E!, the Golf Channel, International Channel Networks, and Comcast Sports Group.
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