Inside Move: NBC & U in altared states

New partners tout merger bliss but what happens post-honeymoon?

HOLLYWOOD — And so the honeymoon begins.

NBC and Universal consummated their marriage last week in quintessential GE style: The two entities seemed to come together efficiently and smoothly, with less fanfare but also less fear among the faithful than previous conglom combos caused.

NBC chairman Bob Wright and his top lieutenants held a town meeting May 13 on the Universal lot, hoping to reassure troops who’d been through three pervious mergers in the past 12 years. Meeting with journalists later, Wright put the emphasis on how the fit between the two companies felt “comfortable.”

“When we did sit down with each other during the last year we found that we aren’t, on cultural issues, that far apart on things that matter,” he said.

U was also a willing bride — unlike Sony, which flirted with an NBC merger several years ago.

“Universal’s been so successful for so many years, it takes a great deal of pressure off of us,” Wright says.

Even the volatile film biz, he said, was similar to what NBC has had to deal with on its talent side: ” ‘Friends’ cost us more than ‘Van Helsing’ did.”

Wright admitted there was apprehension among staffers, and that there would be some 500 layoffs over the next year or so. Much of that will apparently be back office jobs, as well as previously announced redundancies on the TV side, the only area where overlap between the two companies is visible.

So why are two strong parties who were thriving on their own coming together?

“You have to have scale,” Wright says–referring to everything from negotiations with cable MSOs, to cross-promotion of content, to getting the best deal on a film location shoot.

The vibe among the corporate toppers who attended a press lunch on the U lot last week — Ron Meyer, Jeff Zucker, Randy Falco, Jay Ireland, all direct reports to Wright — were cordial and relaxed. How long that lasts and how those immediately below them will interact remains to be seen.

On other issues, Wright and company suggested they already had made some decisions: Zucker, for example, hopes to age down cabler USA, while Peacock is still mulling the fate of tiny outlet Trio.

Also, Meyer said there was interest in MGM’s library — but not at a cost of $5 billion.

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