Universal Pictures chairman Adam Fogelson has been forced out of his post amid a major management shakeup that puts NBCUniversal Intl. president Jeff Shell in charge of worldwide operations for the studio’s motion picture group. His newly created title is chairman of Universal Filmed Entertainment Group. He will also oversee Universal’s global theatrical and home entertainment businesses.
Ron Meyer, who has been president and COO of Universal Studios for the past 18 years, has been promoted to vice chairman of NBCUniversal, and Donna Langley, co-chair of Universal Pictures under Fogelson, has been promoted to Universal Pictures chair, reporting to Shell.
Shell (pictured) has already relocated to Los Angeles from his base in London, where he oversaw NBCU’s international television operations and spearheaded the effort to grow that business. The company’s cable and broadcast divisions generated three times as much revenue as NBCU’s filmed entertainment division last year, and Shell’s appointment to lead the studio demonstrates Comcast’s confidence in Shell’s leadership over those businesses.
A top lieutenant to NBCU chief executive Steve Burke, Shell was previously president of the Comcast programming group prior to its takeover of NBCU. After the merger, Comcast sent Shell to London to spur expansion of its international networks and production operations. Industry insiders say he has expressed a desire to return to L.A. Shell is a former News Corp. executive, serving as the CEO of the media conglom’s Gemstar TV Guide Intl. unit and president of the Fox Networks Group. Prior to that he worked in strategic planning at Disney and at investment bank Salomon Brothers.
Shell’s appoinment is clearly a response to big shifts in the business, which is undergoing seismic changes as new technologies are altering the way entertainment is delivered and consumed. It is no longer an imperative that studio chiefs come up through the creative ranks. Earlier this year, Warner Bros. parent Time Warner Inc. put its studio operations under home entertainment and digital chief Kevin Tsujihara.
“This is saying that kind of person we want managing these assets is no longer someone who can put together the next franchise together but someone who can figure out how to fix the business and monetize all these different windows like VOD,” suggests one industry veteran.
Universal and Comcast officials, who four months ago denied speculation that Shell was headed to a top post at Universal, declined to make any of their executives available for interviews.
In a prepared satement, Burke said, “Jeff is perfectly positioned to lead our film group at a time when global expansion is more important than ever.”
Fogelson, according to one source familiar with the situation, said that the executive was not formally informed about his status with the studio before news of Shell’s appointment surfaced in the press.
Fogelson has been chairman of Universal Pictures since October 2009 and has guided the studio to some of its best box office results in the last couple years, with this year already producing hits such as “Despicable Me 2” and “Fast and Furious 6.” But alongside the hits are some huge misfires that Fogelson oversaw, including the costly films “R.I.P.D.” and “Battleship,” both of which lost tens of millions of dollars for the studio. Many in the industry have been predicting that U’s upcoming budget-busting drama “47 Ronin” will be another expensive flop when it debuts Christmas Day.