A sweeping reorganization at NBCUniversal’s cable group — one that gives more channel turf to Bonnie Hammer and crafts a digital-focused role for Lauren Zalaznick — reflects a rethink by NBCU chief exec Steve Burke as to how the conglom’s profit engine should be managed.
The shakeup will see all non-news, non-sports cable channels consolidated under Hammer, chair of NBCU’s newly named Cable Entertainment Group, which also encompasses the Universal Cable Prods. studio wing. Hammer will now oversee channels that Zalaznick has long groomed including Bravo and Oxygen.
Zalaznick shifts to a new post as exec veep of NBCUniversal, tasked with forging innovation and monetization strategies across the Peacock’s portfolio of businesses — mandates that are priorities for Burke. But the specifics of the post are still being hammered out, and insiders said it’s unlikely the ambitious exec was eager to give up her cable strongholds.
Also Monday, NBCU tapped former Univision and Turner Broadcasting exec Joe Uva as chairman of the newly created Hispanic Enterprises and Content wing, encompassing Telemundo and other assets. Like Hammer and Zalaznick, Uva reports to Burke and will join his top-level NBCU executive committee.
The reorg represents the biggest changes to the cable powerhouse since Burke last shuffled its decks in November 2010, shortly after parent company Comcast made him CEO following its acquisition of NBCU.
NBCU positioned the changes as an effort to streamline its cable operations and bring renewed focus to both its digital and Hispanic-oriented businesses. “Now, more than ever, we need to simplify our organization and take advantage of the breadth of our assets,” Burke said in a statement. “These organization changes are designed to do just that.”Sources suggested that Burke’s thinking on the division’s hierarchy had evolved since the initial structure, which may have been less informed by corporate efficiency than by a desire to tiptoe around the delicate balance of power between Hammer and Zalaznick, which had become something of a sideshow in the run-up to the acquisition. Over time, it became clear that having two separate silos of cable programming assets was unwieldy for NBCU.
In the initial carving up of NBCU’s channels, Hammer held on to her cornerstone nets, USA and Syfy, and assumed oversight of Comcast’s E!, G4 and other smaller nets. Zalaznick’s wing was anchored by Bravo and Oxygen but also included E! spinoff Style, as well as Spanish-lingo nets Telemundo and Mun2, which stuck out as odd fits. Now the 12 channels that Hammer oversees account for a whopping 50% of NBCU’s cash flow.
“He had to make a choice of one (executive) to oversee cable, and he went with Bonnie’s track record,” a senior NBCU exec said. But insiders stressed that Burke is determined to keep Zalaznick in the fold. “He knows she is a smart and talented executive,” the exec said, and believes she’s suited to the job of serving as a strategist on issues such as digital licensing and windowing of NBCU content across all platforms.
Zalaznick has the stronger connection to the digital realm, having overseen NBCU properties such as iVillage (which recently relocated to the NBC News portfolio), movie ticket service Fandango and Daily Candy.
Zalaznick will retain those properties and focus on business development for digital, mobile, social media, consumer products as well as Symphony, NBCU’s internal system of promoting key Peacock priorities (such as Universal feature releases and NBC series premieres) across all of its cable, broadcast and digital platforms. Burke has been a booster of Symphony, which is credited as helping in the successful 2011 launch of NBC’s biggest hit in years, “The Voice.”
While NBCU also has Zalaznick focusing on “TV Everywhere and alternative windowing strategies,” dealmaking will still be handled by distribution execs, notably Matt Bond, exec VP of content distribution at Comcast.
The consolidation of cable programming under Hammer is in keeping with other streamlining moves that Burke has made in his little more than two years at the helm of NBCU. In 2011 he parted ways with longtime NBC Sports boss Dick Ebersol and gave oversight of NBCU’s sports and Olympics units to Mark Lazarus. Last year, he tapped former ABC and Time Warner exec Pat Fili-Krushel to oversee the NBCUniversal News Group, a shuffle that spurred the departure last week of NBC News prexy Steve Capus. Last September, he put all of NBCU’s ad sales under the direction of prexy Linda Yaccarino.
Uva’s appointment was overshadowed by the surprise of the shakeup on the cable side involving two of NBCU’s most prominent execs. The move to recruit Uva is another sign of Burke’s interest in growing NBCU’s footprint in the Hispanic media arena. Uva will oversee Telemundo and mun2 and focus on “increasing the presence of Hispanic news and entertainment programming across all of NBCUniversal’s networks and platforms,” Burke wrote in his memo. Emilio Romano, prexy of Telemundo and mun2, reports to Uva, who stepped down as CEO of Univision in early 2011. Before that, he was prexy of media agency OMD Worldwide and a senior exec at Turner Broadcasting.
Hammer has been with NBCU’s cable division since 1989, beginning at what was then known as Sci Fi Channel.
Zalaznick joined NBCU in 2004, following the merger of NBC and Universal Studios. She started out as president of the now defunct Trio net and quickly moved on to build Bravo into an upscale lifestyle powerhouse.