The new head of NBCUniversal’s film operation is an eight-year Comcast vet who made his mark as an exec in the rough-and-tumble world of cable startups and regional sports nets.
During his long run at News Corp., Shell served as prexy of its cable networks group in the early 2000s, tasked with expanding the distribution deals for FX, National Geographic Channels and startup outlets including Speed. Before that, he ran the Fox Sports Net cluster of regional cablers — a demanding job that involves wrangling distribution deals with cable and satellite operators and rights pacts with local teams.
When News Corp. stumbled into a legal and financial minefield with its Gemstar-TV Guide unit, Shell was dispatched in 2002 to clean up the accounting mess that had sparked a Securities and Exchange Commission probe, class-action lawsuits and resignations of senior execs.
Shell segued to Comcast in early 2005 as programming prexy to oversee Comcast-owned channels including E!, G4, Golf Channel and Outdoor Life and Comcast’s cluster of regional sports cablers. His negotiating skills and familiarity with Comcast’s focus on driving new distribution models such as VOD and authenticated broadband delivery (the TV Everywhere initiative championed by Comcast topper Brian Roberts) will undoubtedly come into play in his new gig at the film studio. As with other Hollywood studio chiefs, job one for Shell will be reinventing the economics of the movie biz. He’s likely to face the challenge of balancing tough talks with exhibitors as U looks to take advantage of emerging platforms to find new ways to market and distribute movies.
After joining Comcast, Shell quickly became part of the inner circle of then-Comcast prexy Steve Burke, now CEO of NBCU. When Comcast took over NBCU, Shell was rumored for a top job in the cable channel cluster or running the NBC broadcast network.
But Burke wound up dispatching him in early 2011 to London to oversee the expansion of NBCU’s various international TV production and distributions entities, its channels and homevideo operations. He also supervised Universal’s overseas theme parks in Japan and Singapore — job experience that he will likely eventually draw on in his new role at Universal.
Shell also had a general mandate to expand the scope of NBCU and Comcast Corp.’s international businesses. That exposure to media and entertainment outside of the U.S. was undoubtedly another plus in Burke’s eyes as he settled on a new leader for Universal’s film operations. Early on in his career, Shell worked for investment bank Salomon Brothers and in strategic planning for Disney.
In recent months, Shell had let it be known to friends and colleagues that he intended to return to Los Angeles with his wife and daughter within a year or two. The rumors about his segueing to a top Universal post picked up in July after he purchased a home in Beverly Hills.
Those who have worked with Shell in the past describe the exec as competitive and energetic when it comes to work but also someone who is considerate as a boss and “genuinely kind” as a person.
Even in his official NBCU bio, Shell emphasized his affection for his native country, noting that while living in London he continued to “avidly support the Philadelphia Eagles, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the California Golden Bears.”