NBCU’s Zucker Won’t Replace Himself

NEW YORK NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker in a conference call with reporters yesterday said he would not replace himself “one on one” in his prior post of CEO of NBC Universal Television Group, but instead would be “making some organizational moves” that give current executives additional responsibilities. He said those moves would be announced “soon.”

Zucker was officially promoted to succeed Bob Wright, who will remain on until 2008 as vice chairman of NBC Universal parent company General Electric. GE chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt will assume Wright’s role as chairman of NBC Universal. Zucker will continue to report to Wright until April, when he will begin reporting to Immelt.

In announcing his promotion, GE chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt said, “Jeff Zucker is a terrific talent and the right person to guide NBC Universal on the next stage of its growth.” He added, “Jeff’s 20-plus years with NBC give him deep knowledge of the company’s strategy, people and culture.”

Immelt said in the past few years Zucker has shown “that he is an energetic, focused leader who can rise to a challenge.” Immelt also praised Zucker’s “creative experience, expertise in news and broadcasting, and intense passion for the business” as being “immensely appealing” to the GE board during its decision-making process to select a successor to Wright.

Immelt described this as being “the right time to make this important transition,” citing “real business momentum” within the company.

“I like the team we have in place today, and believe that the future for NBCU is bright,” he said.

Jay Ireland in December was elevated to president of NBCU television stations and network operations, in effect replacing Randy Falco, who left to become chairman and CEO of AOL. Around the same time, Immelt named Michael Pilot, a GE executive, to become NBC television sales president, replacing Keith Turner. Elevating Zucker is another move by Immelt to establish his own team within NBC Universal. Immelt’s predecessor, Jack Welch, appointed Wright, who spent 21 years at NBC.

In response to questions by the press that many of NBC’s problems have occurred during Zucker’s watch, Immelt said that Zucker has had oversight of not only NBC prime time but also the other TV divisions that have done well. The cable division under Zucker, Immelt said, has produced “record-breaking performances,” and the news division and Hispanic network Telemundo have recorded “phenomenal performances.”

NBC Universal, he said, is more than just NBC prime time.

Zucker has “1,000 percent of my support and the [GE] board’s support,” Immelt said.

With more responsibility beyond the television group, Zucker said he would let those within the organization beneath him run their respective operations on a day-to-day basis. “I will clearly look to them to lead their respective divisions and where I can help, I will be involved. But I won’t be as hands on unless it is called for.”

Commenting specifically on NBC, Zucker said he plans to “insure that the [prime-time ratings] turnaround continues, and to make sure [programming] content is made available in as many places as possible and that we get paid for it.”

Immelt had kind words for Wright. “Jeff will succeed one of the true giants in media,” Immelt said of Wright, adding that the company owes a “tremendous debt of gratitude” to him “for helping to build this great media company.”

He added that Wright “transformed NBC from a broadcast network into a diversified media company.”

Under Wright, NBC’s revenue grew from $3 billion in 1986 when he was brought in to more than $16 billion in 2006.

Zucker called Wright a “terrific mentor to me throughout my career.”