Jeff Zucker on Tuesday was named president and chief executive of NBC Universal, a unit of General Electric , replacing his long-time boss, Bob Wright, who will continue to serve as vice chairman of the parent company.
Wright, 63, has run NBC since GE acquired the company in 1986, transforming it from a stand-alone TV network to an entertainment company with cable channels, a Spanish-language outlet, a film studio, theme parks and digital media.
“Jeff Zucker is a terrific talent and the right person to guide NBC Universal on the next stage of its growth,” Jeff Immelt, GE’s chairman and CEO, said in a prepared statement. “Jeff’s 20-plus years with NBC give him deep knowledge of the company’s strategy, people and culture. His creative experience, expertise in news and broadcasting and intense passion for the business were immensely appealing to the Board and to me.”
NBC Universal was created in 2004 by the combination of assets owned by NBC and Vivendi Universal. GE owns 80% of the company and Vivendi, a French utility operator, owns 20%. The deal added a Hollywood studio, Universal Pictures, to NBC’s stable of media properties that includes its flagship broadcast network, NBC, and a range of cable channels, including Bravo, USA Network, CNBC, MSNBC and Telemundo, a Spanish-language network. The company also owns iVillage, a Web site aimed at women.
Zucker, 41, who had served as CEO of NBC Universal Television Group, started in the TV network's sports department and then moved to news, becoming the youngest executive producer of NBC’s “Today” show. He made “Today” the company’s most profitable program and won five Emmy awards.
“Bob has been a terrific mentor to me throughout my career, and I am honored to be his successor and fortunate to assume responsibility of a company that is so well positioned for growth,” Zucker said. “I’ve spent my entire career at NBC and had the privilege to work with the best in the business every day. I look forward to continuing to work with this talented management team as we take NBC Universal to the next level.”
Zucker’s climb up the ranks of NBC Universal hit a bump when, as head of the company's West Coast operations, he failed to develop immediate replacements for the hit prime-time shows, “Friends” and “Frasier.” The network’s entertainment lineup now includes “The Office,” “My Name is Earl,” “Heroes,” "Deal or No Deal," and “30 Rock.”
Wright became chairman and chief executive officer of NBC Universal in May 2004 as part of the combining of NBC and Vivendi Universal Entertainment. He was named president and CEO of NBC in September 1986 and became chairman and CEO in June 2001. During his tenure, NBC revenue increased to $16 billion in 2006 from $3 billion in 1986.
“I hand over the reins now with great pride in what we’ve accomplished and great confidence about what NBC Universal will become,” Wright said. “We have momentum, outstanding support from GE and Vivendi, and a terrific executive in Jeff Zucker.”
Nicholas P. Heymann, an analyst at Prudential Securities in New York who tracks GE, says Zucker understands production, the fickle tastes of the TV audience, the importance of news and the need to cut costs.
“He sees the need to create original programming at minimal cost,” Heymann says. “I don’t expect any major acquisitions in the near term, but I expect him to work the horizon and not miss the next YouTube.”
Heymann says Zucker will have the company in good shape if he can return it to peak profitability with cost cuts by the end of 2008. This could enable to company to move aggressively into digital media.
“Zucker represents the best way to minimize risk and to maximize the potential for making a winning decision in digital media,” Heymann says. “If he gets it right, it will be a homerun.”
NBC Universal's fourth-quarter profit increased to $841 million from $801 million a year ago. Revenue rose 1% to $4.2 billion.