Bonnie Hammer is blowing up the cable TV management playbook with a sweeping realignment of executive responsibilities across the largest channels that she oversees at NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment.
The biggest break with tradition in the blueprint unveiled Tuesday is the move of Bill McGoldrick, formerly Syfy’s exec VP of original content, to the post as exec VP of scripted content for the NBCU Cable Entertainment channels group. McGoldrick will work with the respective network presidents and their teams in overseeing original scripted programming for USA, Syfy, Bravo, E! and any of the other channels that try scripted series. McGoldrick reports to Jeff Wachtel, NBCU Cable’s chief content officer and head of its Universal Cable Productions arm.
Dave Howe, who has been president of Syfy and Chiller, is shifting to president of strategy and commercial growth, another job that spans the 10 channels in Hammer’s group. He will oversee all business affairs and business development.
With Howe and McGoldrick moving out of Syfy, USA Network president Chris McCumber takes on oversight of the channel. As part of the reorg, NBCU has created an Entertainment Networks group, headed by McCumber as president, that consists of USA, Syfy, Chiller and Cloo. That move means the consolidation of executive duties in marketing and publicity, among other areas, at the four channels.
The moves are a dramatic response to the massive shift in viewing habits that have rocked the TV business, denting linear ratings and forcing execs to think about managing channels more as content engines than as linear networks. With consolidation among the ranks, there are likely to be executive departures down the road, Hammer acknowledged. But for now, the goal is to get the various teams adjusted to the centralized roles for McGoldrick and Howe. Leaders of the individual channels will be tasked will sorting out their long-term staffing needs, Hammer said.
The reorganization has been a long time coming, something Hammer has spent months working on with her top lieutenants. The first step toward a more centralized approach to running the group, particularly the largest channels, came in 2013, when former USA co-president Wachtel was given the mandate to oversee content creation and rev up in-house production at UCP. In September 2014, oversight of Bravo, Oxygen, E! and Esquire were rolled up under Frances Berwick with the creation of the Lifestyle Networks group. The shuffling of programming duties for Syfy, Chiller and Cloo to fall under McCumber and his team was the next logical step in that process. Also, Berwick will adopt the kidvid cabler Sprout in her group as part of the broader shuffle.
“This is not something where I woke up two weeks ago and said, ‘Oh my goodness, we have to do something,’” Hammer, chair of NBCU Cable Entertainment, told Variety. “We have been trying to figure out a structure that makes sense when you look at what is happening in cable at large, and how content is developed, sold and monetized domestically and globally. Now’s the time to do this.”
McGoldrick’s role as scripted czar across all networks is an effort to create a more efficient process for the creative community — writers, producers, agents and talent — to pitch prospects to NBCU’s cablers. Hammer’s goal is to create a better system for determining where a show’s best chance at success will be rather than have the path determined by which set of network execs gave the greenlight.
“Shows cross over so easily now,” she said. “Now the determination won’t be made because of the president who put it into development but rather where the show should live in our group based on reach, demos and monetization options.”
Howe’s job will be to maintain a 20,000-foot view of how NBCU can best exploit its programming assets outside of the traditional network airing. His broad charter includes developing new business opportunities for shows and experimenting with viewing options and marketing efforts. The job of thinking about how to make the most of opportunities — such as USA is seeing with the sizzle from “Mr. Robot” — needs to be a full-time pursuit for an executive who doesn’t have the responsibility of running a channel.
“The presidents of the (lifestyle and entertainment) groups are so in the weeds dealing with the day-to-day business of making sure their channels do well in a very fractured environment,” Hammer said. “I wanted one person whose only job is to looking across the portfolio to make sure our monetization is being maximized. We need to make sure that we’re in step with the digital world of the future. We need to be experimenting and playing in this world. None of the (channel) presidents can do that — they’re too busy with their day jobs.”
McGoldrick was the right fit for the scripted job because of his past experience as a top programming exec at USA and Syfy. Howe was picked for the strategy role because of his affinity for and facility with analyzing data — something Hammer chalks up to his early years working for the BBC. Howe led Syfy’s transmedia development initiative that linked the 2013 drama series “Defiance” with a video game release that featured interwoven storylines. The venture ultimately wasn’t much of a success, but the thinking that went into it impressed Hammer.
The significance of the moves reinforce the magnitude of the changes and business challenges that NBCU and other established cable groups are facing. Declining linear ratings means falling advertising revenue. Cord-cutting and cord-shaving are real and growing threats to the affiliate revenue that has kept successful cable channels rolling in the dual-revenue stream dough for so many years. The move of viewing to an on-demand world makes it harder to bring people to the set and more important that every show on a network’s air is its own cottage industry. And with the growth of global multiplatform distribution, every major cable network is upping its investment on in-house production that can be licensed for big bucks around the world.
Hammer emphasized that the goal of the restructure was not to shed bodies but to rethink how the group operates in programming and related functions. “It’s all about restructuring for the future today,” Hammer said. “What happens down the road is that people will take a look at their organizations and be forward-thinking about how to assemble the smartest, best-aligned team.”
Among the other changes announced in a staff memo on Tuesday:
- Within McCumber’s entertainment group, marketing will be overseen by USA’s exec VP Alexandra Shapiro. Katherine Nelson will serve as senior VP of communications.
- Sandra Schron, formerly a marketing VP at USA, becomes senior VP of marketing production for the group, tasked with streamlining the production of marketing materials for all channels. She reports to McCumber and Berwick.