The Lauren Zalaznick era at NBCUniversal is over. NBCU CEO Steve Burke confirmed in a memo Friday that the exec who combined programming and marketing savvy to build Bravo into a cable powerhouse for the Peacock is preparing to exit after 12 years with the company.
Her plan to depart by year’s end is no surprise, after losing her cable turf earlier this year when Burke decided to consolidate NBCU’s channels under Bonnie Hammer. Zalaznick segued to a non-operational role as exec VP of NBCUniversal and was tasked with exploring various digital strategies for NBCU content. Digital was right up her alley but the lack of any P&L responsibilities was frustrating to the exec, sources said.
Zalaznick’s current direct reports in her digital portfolio will be divvied up by Cesar Conde, the former Univision programming topper who joined NBCU International earlier this month, and Jeff Shell, the NBCU Intl. topper who will move back across the pond to become chairman of Universal Film Entertainment Group in January.
Zalaznick became synonymous with the high-end urbane programming that defined Bravo on her watch. She coined the term “affluencers” to describe the media-savvy young viewers the network courted with shows such as “Top Chef” and “Project Runway” as well as low-brow guilty-pleasure fare such as “The Real Housewives” franchise (which piggybacked on the early success of ABC’s soap “Desperate Housewives”).
One person familiar with Zalaznick’s thinking suggested the exec preferred more of a hands-on role, and her current duties forced her to be much more of “a suit,” who dealt with supervising and managing.
Smart and articulate, the exec has been a magnet for media attention herself, which hit a crescendo with a glowing New York Times Magazine profile in 2008.
Zalaznick came to NBCUniversal in 2004 through G.E.’s acquisition of Vivendi Universal Entertainment, which had tapped Zalanick two years earlier to run its pop culture-centric Trio cabler. The channel had limited distribution but got attention in media circles through a franchise marketed as “Brilliant But Canceled,” which made use of short-lived shows from notable creative auspices — a genius way to ingratiate herself into the creative community.
At NBC she was put in charge of Bravo, which the Peacock had purchased a few years before. Zalaznick was among the first traditional TV execs to recognize the importance of the emerging world of digital media to promoting and extending the reach of on-air brands as well as offering premium advertising opportunities. She spearheaded the formation of an Integrated Media group in 2007, overseeing disparate NBCU digital assets including iVillage and ultimately Comcast’s Fandango and Daily Candy.
Zalaznick also energetically took on oversight of NBCU’s “Green is Universal” environmental initiative to overhaul the conglom’s operations in green-friendly ways. For the past few years the ambitious campaign has also included a week of green-themed programming rolled out across NBCU’s various nets.
Zalaznick and Hammer split NBCU’s entertainment cable turf for years, a division that persisted even after the Comcast acquisition of NBCU in early 2011, with Zalaznick adding Style Network and Spanish-lingo nets Telemundo and Mun2 to her portfolio. But in February, Burke moved to consolidate the entertainment cablers and cable production unit under Hammer, while former Univision CEO Joe Uva was brought in to run NBCU’s Hispanic assets. Despite her digital street cred, Zalaznick’s shift to a digital strategy-focused post was seen as a means of marking time until she could sort out her exit.
Zalaznick was not immediately available for comment Friday about her next moves. There was instant speculation that she might pursue a startup venture of some kind. The person familiar with Zalaznick’s point of view suggested the exec was interested in content and how it intersects with technology. Zalaznick is known to have forged advisory relationships with a number of tech- and digital media outfits, both as a coach for entrepreneurs and an consultant on media biz-matters. It’s also undersood that Zalaznick has made seed investments in two companies.
Those who are close to the exec say she’s likely to be less interested in a traditional player like Viacom or Time Warner and more keen on an emerging property or concern rather than a role focused in linear programming assets. Rumors that Zalaznick may be headed to Yahoo or Discovery Communications are inaccurate, this person suggested.
Undoubtedly Zalaznick will be high on the list of sought-after candidates for high-level programming and digital openings at other networks and studios.
Here’s Burke’s memo:
I am writing to let you know that Lauren Zalaznick will be leaving NBCUniversal after 12 successful years working in a variety of leadership roles here.
Those of you who know Lauren well know she is one of those rare executives that combine great creative instincts with a true business orientation. Her contributions to our company have been significant and far-reaching, from cable entertainment to Spanish-language broadcast, from digital initiatives to new marketing campaigns. Lauren also has been an important champion for many of our company-wide initiatives.
Moving forward, most of Lauren’s current group including Lori Conkling, Tony Cardinale, Nick Lehman and Lenore Moritz will report to Cesar Conde. Russell Hampton (Consumer Products) and Paul Yanover (Fandango) will report to Jeff Shell. John Shea and the Integrated Media group will report solely to Linda Yaccarino.
Lauren will remain at the company to transition her current portfolio, and then consult with NBCUniversal on digital media content and technology marketplace trends.
I want to thank Lauren for her years of service. Her drive to innovate, her energy and her intelligence have made our company a better place. She has been an important member of our team and we wish her well in the future.