Zucker to Step Down From NBC Universal

NBC Universal president and CEO Jeff Zucker on Friday announced he was stepping down from his post, upon the finalization of Comcast’s acquisition of a majority stake in the media conglomerate.

In a memo to NBCU staffers, the 45-year-old Zucker said, “the time has come … When Comcast assumes control of NBC Universal, I will leave the company.”

Zucker said his had not been “an easy or simple decision,” citing his 24-year stint at NBC. “I have spent my entire adult life here. This is the only place I have ever worked. The only professional thing I have ever known,” Zucker wrote. “I met my wife here, enjoyed the birth of our four children in that time, worked in almost every division of the company. And forged relationships, both professional and personal, that will last a lifetime.”

In the final analysis, it was not Zucker’s decision to make. While NBCU corporate parent General Electric in March extended his contract through 2012, Comcast publicly asserted that chief operating officer Steve Burke would make all executive decisions for the new entity through the transition period and beyond.  

The $13.8 billion deal, which will give Comcast a 51 percent stake in NBCU, is expected to close at the end of this year or in early 2011, upon approval of federal regulators.

In his memo, Zucker said his departure is “the right decision for me and for the company,” adding that Comcast will serve as “a great new steward, just as GE has been” and that the new owners “deserve the chance to implement their vision.”

Zucker went on to note that he wouldn’t be going anywhere until the deal closes, “and that day is still months away.” In the meantime, the chief executive said he would continue “to approach everything we do with the long-term interest of the company in mind, just as I always have.

“I know no other way,” he added.

Zucker was once one of television’s brightest young stars, assuming the role of executive producer of the Today show back in 1992, at the ripe old age of 26. Under his tutelage, Today became the most-watched morning show on the dial.

He went on to a number of other roles within the company, including a stint as president of NBC Entertainment’s news and cable group, which in turn was followed by a term as president of the NBC Television Group. That period (2005) coincided with NBC’s descent to the bottom of the ratings heap.

Zucker told staffers that he was unsure as to what the future would bring following his last day at 30 Rock. “I’ve spent the last 24 years thinking only about NBC Universal, and never contemplated anything else. I haven’t even begun to think about the next chapter,” he wrote.

Once Comcast assumes control of the NBCU portfolio, its fortunes will change dramatically. Along with the flagship broadcast net, Comcast gains the powerhouse cable programming suite, which includes top-rated channel USA Network, as well as Syfy, Bravo and Oxygen. Also in the mix are the news nets MSNBC and CNBC.

Last year marked the cable group’s most profitable year. On the broadcast side of the ledger, NBC continues to face an uphill climb. Last season, the network tied ABC for last place among the Big Four in the 18-49 demo and finished fourth with total viewers. Thus far in the 2010-11 TV season, NBC has enjoyed solid sampling with new series like The Event and Under Covers.

When Comcast’s group of networks––these include E!, Versus, G4, Style Network and Golf Channel––is merged with the NBCU properties, the new entity stands to bring in as much as $10 billion in annual ad sales revenue.