NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell is putting his imprimatur on the company’s executive structure following the exit of former chief executive Steve Burke last year as the Comcast divison announced a major restructing that creates a new division, NBCUniversal Television and Streaming – including Peacock – that’s headed by Mark Lazarus as chairman.
The company also said its news networks will be organized into a single unit and led by Cesar Conde, who assumes the newly created role of Chairman, NBCUniversal News Group, which now includes NBC News, MSNBC and CNBC.
NBC News Group President Andy Lack is stepping down and will transition out of the company at the end of the month. Noah Oppenheim, President of NBC News; Phil Griffin, President of MSNBC; and Mark Hoffman, Chairman of CNBC; will now report to Conde. Lack had reportedly been planning to exit after the 2020 elections.
Conde, who has been chairman of NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises, came to Telemundo in 2013 after a 10-year run at Univision. He spearheaded Telemundo’s rise in the prime-time Spanish-language ratings after decades of dominance by Univision and also has led coverage of soccer’s World Cup, another former Univision mainstay.
A new leader of Telemundo Enterprises, replacing Conde, will be announced later. Until then, the Telemundo leadership team will report directly to Lazarus.
The new structure, effective immediately, closely aligns NBCUniversal’s television networks as well as the new streaming service, Peacock, under one division led by Lazarus, who will also continue to oversee the NBC Sports Group, owned television stations, and affiliate relations.
The networks included NBC Entertainment, Telemundo, the cable entertainment networks (USA, SYFY, Bravo, Oxygen, E!, Universal Kids), International Networks as well as the new streaming service, Peacock, under one division led by Mark Lazarus, Chairman, NBCUniversal Television and Streaming. Lazarus will also continue to oversee the NBC Sports Group, owned television stations, and affiliate relations.
“This is the right structure to lead NBCUniversal into the future during this transformational time in the industry,” said Shell. “Mark has a proven track record across every aspect of our television business from sports to local stations to entertainment. He is the ideal leader to oversee our television and streaming portfolio in this newly formed division, which allows us to have a more unified approach to our content strategy.”
On Conde, Shell added, “Cesar is a well-respected, strategic leader who has succeeded in multiple roles at NBCUniversal since joining the company in 2013. Most recently, Cesar has overseen unprecedented growth at Telemundo, which under his leadership has become the number one Spanish-language network, and through its news division has played a critical role in the expansion of news operations, breaking news coverage and trailblazing political reporting. Cesar’s valuable and relevant experience leading broadcast networks and news divisions, combined with his high degree of integrity and proven management skills, make him the right person to lead our news group into the future.”
Both Lazarus and Conde report directly to Shell.
The biggest structural shakeup in the news division is the addition of CNBC in the NBC News fold. Hoffman has served as chairman since 2015 and as president since 2005, and through the years has operated independently of the news division and as part of it. Last year, when Lazarus was given an expanded role overseeing cable operations and news, Lack and Hoffman began reporting to him.
Lack’s departure had been anticipated, but it comes after a tenure that had its share of successes — as well as controversies. He joined the network in 2015, having previously led the news division in the 1990s.
Five years ago, the network was still reeling from the suspension of Brian Williams from the anchor chair of NBC Nightly News, having embellished a story of an experience covering the Iraq war in 2003. Lester Holt replaced Williams, a move that turned out to be a ratings winner. But Lack, who also oversaw MSNBC, set out to bring more of the network news talent to the cable channel, particularly in the daytime. He also brought back Williams, whose 11 PM newscast The 11th Hour has won its time slot over other rivals.
Lack also was instrumental in hiring of Megyn Kelly, who was enlisted to headline the third hour of Today and her own newsmagazine. But her deal, reportedly worth $69 million, turned out to be a disaster. It culminated in her exit after she made a comment supportive of the idea of children wearing blackface as a Halloween costume. She apologized.
But Lack also presided over the news division during one of its most tumultuous periods — Matt Lauer’s abrupt firing from Today in 2017, in the wake of allegations of sexual harassment. Last year, when Ronan Farrow published his book Catch and Kill, he claimed that network executives knew about allegations against Lauer yet failed to act. Farrow also claimed that his reporting for NBC News on Harvey Weinstein was sidelined because the producer threatened to reveal the allegations against Lauer. NBC News President Noah Oppenheim wrote at the time that Farrow’s allegation was “false,” and “The charge collapses under the slightest scrutiny.”
The sweeping restructuring comes amid rumors that NBCUniversal is contemplating significant layoffs as part of a review of its operations alluded to by Shell last week on Comcast’s quarterly earnings call.
“On costs, the question about whether we’re right sized … given where the environment is headed, the answer is probably no, and we’re addressing that pretty aggressively,” Shell told investors.
On April 9, the company announced plans to reduce the pay of nearly all its theme park employees by 20% as of April 20 and to furlough part-time hourly workers starting May 3. Universal Studios Hollywood, located in Universal City, CA, and Universal Orlando have been shuttered since mid-March.
Most media companies have been pounded in one way or another by the coronavirus pandemic with film and TV production halted, advertising in the tank and live sports disappeared. That goes for NBCUniversal too (despite the strong, somewhat controversial video-on-demand performance of Trolls World Tour). The streamlining of its operations announced today and ensuing redundancies will fall under the broader cost cutting efforts.
NBCUniversal may be advantaged as part of the Comcast umbrella as the cable giant sees a huge uptick in broadband sales and reported record low churn last quarter — so good that ratings agency S&P Global said Monday it didn’t expect the COVID-19 crisis to impact Comcast’s credit rating. In contrast, the agency downgraded Walt Disney’s rating last month (although it’s still solidly in credit-worthy terrain) on concerns that the theme park business may take longer than anticipated to normalize.
Rounding out the NBCUniversal senior management team, the following executives continue to report directly to Shell:
- Matt Bond, Chairman, Content Distribution
- Bonnie Hammer, Chairman of NBCUniversal Content Studios
- Kim Harris, EVP and General Counsel
- Kathy Kelly-Brown, SVP, Strategic Initiatives
- Anand Kini, EVP and Chief Financial Officer
- Donna Langley, Chairman, Universal Filmed Entertainment Group
- Ron Meyer, Vice Chairman
- Adam Miller, EVP
- Craig Robinson, EVP and Chief Diversity Officer
- Tom Williams, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Universal Parks & Resorts
- Linda Yaccarino, Chairman of Advertising Sales & Client Partnerships
Under the new structure, the following executives will lead businesses reporting to Lazarus:
- Frances Berwick, President, Lifestyle Networks
- Ken Bettsteller, President, International Networks
- Peter Bevacqua, President, NBC Sports Group
- Philip Martzolf, President, NBCUniversal Affiliate Relations
- Chris McCumber, President, Entertainment Networks
- Valari Staab, President, NBCUniversal Owned Television Stations
- Matt Strauss, Chairman of Peacock
- Paul Telegdy, Chairman, NBC Entertainment
Dade Hayes contributed to this report