Frances Berwick (pictured left) will add oversight of E! and Esquire Network to her portfolio that already includes Bravo and Oxygen Media. Esquire prexy Adam Stotsky (pictured right) will take on the additional responsibility of serving as g.m. of E!, reporting to Berwick. Suzanne Kolb, who has headed E! since July 2011, is exiting the company.
The restructuring unveiled Tuesday by NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment chairman Bonnie Hammer cements Berwick’s status as the heatseeker among Hammer’s group of direct reports.
With the expansion of Berwick’s purview, NBCU has created a Lifestyle Networks Group within its cable division that Berwick, previously prexy of Bravo and Oxygen Media, now heads as president. Hammer said putting the four channels under a single leader made sense given that they have a similar focus on pop culture and lifestyle programming. And Hammer made it clear she has great faith in Berwick.
“In a crowded, constantly evolving media landscape, it’s more important than ever to have a business structure that not only delivers results today, but also sets a course with the right leadership for future success,” Hammer said. “Frances is that rare individual whose creative instincts are as finely tuned as her business savvy. Her impressive track record is all about identifying compelling, innovative content. It’s part of her DNA, and it will be an invaluable asset in this new role and in maximizing E!’s tremendous brand potential.”
The shakeup at E! follows months of rumors about a change coming to the top of the cabler. Kolb had been with E! since 2005, rising through the marketing and online ranks. She was prexy of marketing, news and online for E! prior to getting the top job.
Kolb was handed the reins of E! after Hammer took on the channel in early 2011 following the NBCUniversal-Comcast merger. Hammer spent several months looking at candidates before naming Kolb to fill the vacancy left by the move of Ted Harbert (who was overseeing all of Comcast’s entertainment channels) to the NBC Broadcasting chairman post.
The latest shuffle at E! comes just as the cabler is preparing to take a big leap into new territory with the launch of its first scripted series, “The Royals,” a sudser revolving around a contemporary royal family that bears resemblance to a certain Windsor clan in Blighty. E! has yet to set a date of the launch but it has been expected to be in the first half of 2015.
Under Berwick, Bravo has made the same jump into scripted series. The cabler’s first effort, “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce,” a drama toplined by Lisa Edelstein from writer Marti Noxon, is set to premiere Dec. 2. It also has a half-hour comedy on tap, “Odd Mom Out,” starring fashionista author Jill Kargman, that has not yet set a premiere date.
Berwick’s stock has climbed at NBCU in the past few years in part because Bravo has avoided the trap that E! fell into of being overly reliant on one strain of programming. Berwick is one of the key architects of Bravo’s blend of low- and high-brow fare that runs the gamut of “The Real Housewives” franchise to “Top Chef.”
The British exec joined Bravo from Channel 4 in 1996, prior to NBC’s acquisition of the cabler for $1.2 billion in late 2002. By 2004, the combo of Berwick and former Bravo chief Lauren Zalaznick, backed by NBCU’s resources, turned the once-sleepy arts channel into a lifestyle and entertainment juggernaut that now famously targets the “affluencer” demo.
In September, Berwick in September took on oversight of Oxygen Media, which had been flagging with a similar celeb-reality lineup. On Oct. 7, the cabler is rolling out a rebranding campaign and a shift in its demo focus to young multicultural femmes with a wider range of unscripted fare. Clearly, Hammer is looking for Berwick to do a similar refresh at E!
For the third quarter of this year, E’s primetime ratings dropped 10% compared to the year-ago period, to an average of 602,000 viewers. Adults 18-49 ratings slid 11% year-to-year, to 358,000. Adults 24-54 fell 9% to 319,000.
“I’ve been a huge longtime fan of E! from afar, so I’m really excited to now be part of the team,” Berwick said. “I have enormous respect for the brand leadership position they’ve built in entertainment news and celebrity culture.”
Stotsky is a cable marketing vet who was named prexy of the startup Esquire Network, a joint venture of the Peacock and Hearst Corp., last year. Stotsky worked with Hammer more than a decade ago at Syfy before moving to NBC as marketing prexy. He ran NBCUniversal’s G4 cabler (which is now essentially defunct) before being tapped to lead the launch of Esquire.
Here’s Hammer’s memo to NBCU Cable Entertainment staffers regarding the restructuring:
By any measure, NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment is a major force on the media landscape. And its strength is entirely due to the fantastic teams throughout the portfolio…from my point of view, the best in the business.
But to stay ahead of the competition, we need to constantly challenge ourselves and ask key questions: Are we doing things as effectively and creatively as possible? Are we maximizing the strengths of the incredibly talented individuals in the portfolio? And are we organized in a way that allows us to meet our business goals today, and to lay solid groundwork for future success?
With that in mind, we are forming the Lifestyle Networks group, made up of Bravo, Oxygen, E! and Esquire. Frances Berwick, President of Bravo and Oxygen Media, will now be President, Lifestyle Networks, adding E! and Esquire Network to her responsibilities, reporting to me. In her expanded role, Frances will develop and lead the strategic direction for the Lifestyle Network brands.
This reorganization will more closely align Bravo, Oxygen, E! and Esquire with the way they are offered to the marketplace, as well as streamline the creative process for the entire Lifestyle group. It will allow us to respond nimbly to fast-moving opportunities whenever and wherever they appear.
As part of her oversight of E!, Frances will be directly responsible for original programming and development that will grow viewership, strengthen the channel’s competitive positioning in the marketplace and extend its worldwide reputation as the “go to” multiplatform destination for all things entertainment.
Adam Stotsky will become General Manager of E!, adding to his responsibilities as President, Esquire Network; he will report to Frances. In his new role at E!, Adam will be responsible for daily operations, including oversight of news, digital, marketing, communications, research and scheduling/acquisitions.
With Frances and Adam, we’ve tapped two highly talented leaders from within our portfolio who are superbly suited for these new roles.
Frances is without question an exceptional executive, and she’s done an outstanding job as President, Bravo and Oxygen Media.
On her watch, Bravo has become a top-ten network, and ranks #1 with cable’s most upscale and educated 18-49 audience. That’s largely due to the innovative – and award-winning – original programming she and her team have developed over the years. At Oxygen, she’s currently overseeing the network’s exciting rebrand, targeting young, multicultural women, scheduled to launch a week from today.
But what’s truly unique about Frances is the directness and integrity that characterizes every business decision she makes, no matter how tough. She inspires trust from virtually everyone she comes into contact with, inside or outside the company…a quality all too rare in our business.
Adam has been a colleague for years, starting when he joined the Syfy team in 2001. Since those days when he played a key role in transforming Syfy from niche genre entertainment to a top-ten network, he headed marketing at NBC before serving as President, Esquire Network.
With the rebrand of Esquire, Adam has successfully flipped the network’s audience from predominantly female to predominantly male in less than a year. He nurtured an extremely productive partnership with Hearst in the multiplatform extension of the venerable Esquire brand. And the network has generated consistent quarter-over-quarter growth since its debut.
Adam’s leadership is marked by a focus on big-picture brand-strategy that never loses sight of the all-important components that reach the desired audience and deliver a competitive edge. These skills will play a vital role as he oversees the extensive operations behind the E! brand.
I want to thank Suzanne Kolb for her many contributions and for guiding E! through an increasingly challenging marketplace. For nearly a decade she has played a significant role in the success of the network and its core franchises, both on-air and online, and I wish her all the best in her future endeavors.
Thanks to everyone on the entire Cable Entertainment team for your continued support as we embark on an exciting new chapter. And please join me in congratulating Frances and Adam on their well-deserved new positions.
SEE ALSO: Suzanne Kolb’s Memo to E! Staffers