[opendtv] Future's So Bright pt. 2 - Comcast's Plans for Executives Offer Clues to Future of NBC
- From: Craig Birkmaier <craig@xxxxxxxxx>
- To: OpenDTV Mail List <opendtv@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Tue, 23 Nov 2010 07:05:19 -0500
Comcast's Plans for Executives Offer Clues to Future of NBC By BILL CARTER Published: November 21, 2010Comcast did not initiate a broad Sherman's March through the management of NBC Universal last week when it announced its new executive lineup in anticipation of the government's approval of its takeover. The move was more surgical than scorched-earth.
The result confirms the accepted wisdom about the deal: that the cable division was "clearly the crown jewel asset" as James Ratcliffe, a cable and satellite television analyst for Barclays Capital, put it. But the changes could also increase the uncertainty at the struggling NBC network.
The top cable executives, Bonnie Hammer and Lauren Zalaznick, saw their portfolios expanded, as did Dick Ebersol, NBC's top sports executive. Ms. Hammer added the E Channel, Ms. Zalaznick now will run the Style Channel, and Mr. Ebersol will get a major expansion of his sports empire by adding the Golf Channel and Versus, another sports cable channel.
Those exiting include some of the biggest names at the company, headed by the chief executive, Jeff Zucker, whose departure was already announced, and Jeff Gaspin, the latest programmer assigned to repair the chronic sinkhole of the company, the entertainment division of the NBC network.
"Certainly Comcast looked at areas where they had a lot less expertise and there they were going to be a lot more cautious about bringing new people in," Mr. Ratcliffe said.
But there was no caution about trying to rebuild NBC Entertainment. Mr. Gaspin, who also supervised the cable business (Ms. Hammer and Ms. Zalaznick reported to him), had only one cycle of developing programs for the network under his command. But that was apparently enough to convince Comcast executives they needed yet another new approach to find some solution to the long run of failure at NBC in prime time. NBC executives have privately estimated that the entertainment division is losing $300 million a year or more.
One senior Hollywood executive, who asked not to be identified because his company must negotiate deals with the new management, said: "The thing that gets all the attention is the network, and the thing that makes all the money is the cable business. I'm not really sure how much they care about the network anymore."
Mr. Gaspin had managed to impress some on the Hollywood creative side with his commitment to the job and his business acumen. One production studio executive said Mr. Gaspin had brought stability to a situation that ranked as "maybe the biggest mess in the history of television."
Steve Burke, the chief operating officer of Comcast who will become the chief executive of NBC Universal, handed the job of fixing that mess to Robert Greenblatt, who most recently ran Showtime. In doing so, Comcast was essentially shrugging off another year of new program development.
The television calendar demands that virtually all new ideas for programs be rejected or bought by late fall. NBC has ordered about 125 scripts for new series. Mr. Greenblatt may be able to push through a few projects early in the new year, but he will largely be working from the roster left behind by Mr. Gaspin. Mr. Greenblatt will be in charge of selecting the 19 or so of those 125 scripts that are produced as pilots and whichever of that group is finally put on the air.
This latest upheaval will be taking place in a financial atmosphere dominated by sharply diminishing returns. Of the four big networks, only CBS is expected to make a significant profit this year from its prime-time shows. Mr. Gaspin, who declined to comment for this article, has made it clear in previous interviews that a breakout hit - or two or three - would certainly help morale at NBC and might pull in $100 million more a year in revenue.
But no such breakout hit has emerged from the batch Mr. Gaspin introduced this fall. NBC spent heavily to acquire shows from A-list program creators like J. J. Abrams ("Undercovers") and Jerry Bruckheimer ("Chase"), but neither of their efforts grabbed public favor. "Undercovers" has been canceled. "Chase" has already been moved once and appears to be on life support.
Those failures mean that Comcast will keep tinkering with NBC Universal. As Craig Moffett, a media analyst for Sanford C. Bernstein, put it, "Really this is the job that Steve Burke was born to take on." Mr. Burke is the son of Daniel B. Burke, one of the founders of Capital Cities Communications, which owned ABC.
"This is a first step," Mr. Ratcliffe of Barclays said. "You need a team in place on Day 1. But if Comcast thinks things aren't working, or things can work better, they will continue making changes. They made it clear: They are not going to be partial participants. They view this as their baby now, and they're going to run with it."
The cost of settling out the contracts of those top executives is difficult to estimate because the terms are private. One executive with knowledge of the plans to restructure the NBC management said the departing NBC managers were likely to be asked to stay on one day into the new joint venture between Comcast and NBC's former controlling owner, General Electric. The payouts would then be made by the new entity, which means Comcast would be accountable according to its share in the new ownership, which will be 51 percent, with G.E. on the hook for the other 49 percent.
"The dollars involved, while real money, are not the kind of level that's going to move the needle for investors," Mr. Ratcliffe said. "It's Comcast's project now, and if they want to bring in their own management team, to have their own management in place, given how important this effort is going to be for Comcast, another $20 million to $30 million out of pocket is kind of the cost of doing business."
---------------------------------------------------------------------- You can UNSUBSCRIBE from the OpenDTV list in two ways:- Using the UNSUBSCRIBE command in your user configuration settings at FreeLists.org
- By sending a message to: opendtv-request@xxxxxxxxxxxxx with the word unsubscribe in the subject line.
Other related posts:
- » [opendtv] Future's So Bright pt. 2 - Comcast's Plans for Executives Offer Clues to Future of NBC - Craig Birkmaier