Is a management shakeup coming at NBCUniversal?

December 12, 2019, 8:26 PM · See the update below for confirmation from Comcast.

Variety is reporting that NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke is expected to depart in 2020, with Jeff Shell expected replace him as head of the company that owns the Universal theme parks.

Burke took over at NBCUniversal in 2011, when Comcast was buying majority control of the company. Before joining Comcast, Burke worked at The Walt Disney Company, where he was President and COO of Euro Disney from 1992 through 1996, then executive vice president at ABC and later President at ABC Broadcasting, where he reported to then-ABC President Bob Iger.

As CEO of NBCUniversal, Burke famously has enjoyed competing with former co-workers at Disney, approving aggressive investment in Universal's theme parks and most recently pushing for the launch of Peacock - NBCUniversal's direct-to-consumer streaming service to compete with Disney's just-launched Disney+.

Shell also is a former Disney cast member, having worked in its Strategic Planning Group before making his way to Comcast and then NBCUniversal, where he runs NBCUniversal Film and Entertainment, which includes the Universal Studios film studio as well as what's basically the "fiction" part of the NBC network. Most of the rest of NBC reports up under Mark Lazarus, who is the chairman of NBCUniversal Broadcast, Cable, Sports and News. Lazarus was considered the other top internal candidate to replace Burke.

In case you are wondering, Tom Williams, who is the chairman of Universal Parks and Resorts, does not report through either Shell or Lazarus, but directly instead to Vice Chairman Ron Meyer and Burke.

There's no conformation of Variety's report yet from NBCUniversal or its parent Comcast. But if Burke is leaving, that raises the question of where the 61-year-old executive might go next. (Just imagine Burke taking time to prepare to succeed Iger at Disney, if you want to envision the Disney fan base spontaneously igniting.)

Update (Dec. 16): Comcast confirmed the departure this morning.

Comcast Corporation today announced that NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke will retire on August 14, 2020, following the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Effective January 1, 2020, Jeff Shell will become CEO of NBCUniversal, reporting to Burke, who will move to the role of Chairman, NBCUniversal. Upon Burke’s retirement, Shell will report directly to Brian Roberts, Chairman and CEO of Comcast.

Replies (3)

December 13, 2019 at 1:11 PM

Steve Burke sounds like a great CEO for Disney. I don't know a whole lot about him, but he seems to 'get' theme parks, unlike Iger or Chapek, who seem to be tone deaf. The domestic parks never seemed to be a priority to Iger until recently.

I think theme parks are the place that can cultivate the most ardent fans, if they have a great experience there, it can grow even more interest in movies and merchandise. When I was growing up, I always loved Disneyland first, the movies second.

I always thought the best leader for Disney was Matt Ouimet, he was a finance guy who really tried to understand the Disney customer, then after that, Cedar Fair, he did great things at Knott's. He is also 61 years old.

I've heard people say that Ouimet wasn't a good choice for Disney CEO because he doesn't know media. Iger may know media, but I'm wondering if he could have mitigated the decline of ESPN, I don't know enough about it, but just wondering. But one thing seems evident about Ouimet is that he seeks to understand the customer, which Iger makes me wonder sometimes.

Iger does not understand the Star Wars customer. He recently told the Wall Street Journal, "We want the next Star Wars movies to appeal to the general public, unburdened by 40 years of Star Wars memories. If you're not going to update something, you might as well put it in a closet and watch it grow old." Iger seems to think he can ignore 40 years of fandom, in favor of the 'general public'. Well, we'll see how the general public feels when the last sequel movie comes out next week.

December 13, 2019 at 4:34 PM

You can give something "general public" appeal while still respecting the history of something. Look at the 2009 "Star Trek" reboot. Yes, some very loud "fans" fell all over themselves to post vitriol about a movie they were also quick to point out they never saw. But that movie did very well at the box office, much better than the TNG movies did, and sparked renewed demand for more Trek from new generations of fans.

Okay, so Star Trek is not Star Wars. But "Wars" can learn a lot from "Trek" in how to evolve the franchise and open up new possibilities while keeping the core fan base (mostly) happy.

December 16, 2019 at 3:10 PM

Disfan writes: "The domestic parks never seemed to be a priority to Iger until recently."

I Respond: Thanks for the laugh.

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