U shifts TV distrib, consumer divisions

Sectors to report to film arm as part of Vivendi reorg

Universal’s television distribution and consumer products operations are being realigned to report to Rick Finkelstein, president and chief operating officer of Universal Pictures.

Finkelstein in turn reports to Stacey Snider, chair of Universal Pictures, whose star is rising fast at the company. The moves, announced Friday, are part of the restructuring under the studio’s new French owner Vivendi.

Universal Studios has reorganized its television distribution operation under Universal Pictures — a move, it said, designed to increase efficiencies in global distribution of movies and TV shows.

The studio said nothing about its consumer products operations, but the move is likely in the next few weeks. It’s unclear what role consumer products prexy Cynthia Cleveland will play. Under the new structure unveiled Friday, Universal Studios Television Distribution will become a division of Universal Pictures. USTD handles the global distribution of movies and TV shows for Universal Studios in all forms of television across all delivery platforms. USTD co-prexies Steve Jarmus and Philip Schuman will now report to Finkelstein.

The reorganization is in keeping with similar moves at several other studios in which international and domestic operations have been brought under single management.

Opening windows

Finkelstein told Daily Variety that the move will allow the company “to more effectively manage all our assets through multiplying windows and to take advantage of a variety of strategic opportunities.”

The move also comes in the wake of the resignation of U TV chairman Blair Westlake, who had overseen the television distribution operations and the international channels division for the last 3-1/2 years. The U television unit is responsible for some $1 billion in annual revenues to the company. Jarmus and Schuman had reported to Westlake.

“This strategic reporting shift is a more efficient way of managing our filmed entertainment business. Television continues to be a fundamentally important business for our company, and combining film and television under one division enables us to further develop and maximize our distribution opportunities across all media,” Universal Studios prexy and chief operating officer Ron Meyer said.

Finkelstein, who has international experience on the theatrical side and in homevideo, said he is planning to attend the upcoming Mip TV trade show in Cannes to get a handle on the present state of affairs in the international TV biz.

Finkelstein, a lawyer, joined Universal Studios in March 1999 as exec VP of corporate development and strategic planning and became president of the motion pictures division in November 1999. He added the COO title to his business card last December, at the same time that Mark Shmuger was tapped vice chairman.

Before joining Universal, Finkelstein worked for five years at Polygram as an exec VP. Prior to that he had stints as president of Nelson Films and as exec VP at Dino De Laurentiis’ eponymous company.

Snider was named sole chair of Universal Pictures in November 1999 following the departure of co-chair Brian Mulligan to then U parent Seagram.

USTD distributes all of Universal Pictures’ feature films, including hits like “Hannibal,” “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “Erin Brockovich,” as well as U’s vast library of TV shows. In addition, the unit exclusively handles the output of USA Networks, including “Blind Date,” “Law & Order” and “Attila the Hun,” in all foreign markets.

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