CEO Jeff Shell confirmed the overhaul was coming last week during Comcast’s second-quarter earnings call, but he didn’t mention any specifics or timeline. A person close to the company confirmed to Deadline that the cuts were under way. Telemundo and the theme-park unit have been the most directly affected Tuesday, insiders indicated, though other divisions are due to be affected.
Reports have swirled in about the reshaping of NBCU in recent weeks, with another variable being an internal probe of NBC Entertainment chairman Paul Telegdy’s alleged conduct.
The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday the cutbacks would likely be held to less than 10% of the company’s 35,000 employees. Sources indicated to Deadline that the Journal number was a bit aggressive.
“It is said that crises tend to accelerate and exacerbate trends that are already happening,” Shell said on the earnings call. “That is certainly true in the television business, where viewership is rapidly shifting from linear to nonlinear. A few months ago, we combined our television and streaming businesses under Mark Lazarus, which will allow us to more rapidly shift our resources and investment from linear to streaming. Mark is finalizing a new structure that will demonstrate the unique way we intend to manage this business going forward.”
The Lazarus-related reorg is one aspect of the cuts, but COVID-19’s impact on NBCU theme parks, movie and TV production, live sports broadcasts and other operations is the other major factor. The exact number of affected employees and details of the new org chart are expected to be finalized in mid- to late-August, according to an internal video shared with employees, Deadline reported last Friday.
One area being pared down at NBCU came to light Monday when a number of former staffers at a portfolio of “Talk”-branded websites operated by NBC Sports said they had left the company amid cutbacks. Sites like Hardball Talk and College Football Talk of Pro Football Talk were modeled after Pro Football Talk, which has had a partnership with NBC since 2009.
Regional sports networks operated by NBCU have also seen cuts, according to social media posts from former staffers.
Peacock, NBCU’s entrant into the streaming derby, launched in April in Comcast’s cable and broadband footprint and then nationally in July. Shell said it had performed better than expected, drawing 10 million sign-ups since launch, but the company has not said how many of those who signed up actually subscribed, and at which level. Peacock has two tiers – a free one and the more robust Premium one, with 20,000 hours of programming, which is also free for some customers and $5 a month for many other subscribers. An ad-free version of Premium is available for another $5 monthly charge.
Streaming has also become a factor for Universal Pictures. Shell spearheaded a deal with AMC Entertainment that will give the studio an option to shift new theatrical releases to other platforms, including premium video on demand, after just 17 days. While the pact would not affect all new theatrical titles, it significantly alters the long-established system of release windows. Other exhibitors and studios have not as yet indicated a willingness to enter into similar arrangements.