In a surprise move early Oct. 7, NBCUniversal outlined a major executive shuffle from on high, just nine short months after a separate shake-up of top brass at the broadcast and cable giant. But in a fast-moving landscape marked by corporate consolidation and the rapid bloom of streaming platforms, that may be the new normal.
“You’re seeing every media company struggling with organization structure,” says analyst Craig Moffett, co-founder of boutique media and telecom research firm MoffettNathanson. “It seems pretty clear, going forward, that there’s going to be more strategic integration across media assets as you move to a single face to the customer.”
AT&T’s WarnerMedia and a combined Disney-Fox have implemented their own senior management shake-ups in the months after their respective mergers. CBS-Viacom may yet engage in further exec Tetris as it configures a newly combined hierarchy.
As a result of NBCU’s rearrangement, first reported by Variety, veteran TV exec Bonnie Hammer now oversees a combined Universal Television and Universal Content Prods. as chairman of NBCUniversal Content Studios, after being tasked at the start of the year with steering forthcoming streaming platform Peacock as chairman of direct-to-consumer and digital enterprises.
And Paul Telegdy, after splitting the NBC Entertainment chairman role with George Cheeks over the past year, will now take the helm solo as Cheeks moves to a vice chair role under Hammer.
The most notable shift prompting industry curiosity: NBCUniversal parent company Comcast has parachuted in exec Matt Strauss to essentially take Hammer’s place as the new chairman of Peacock, giving him additional oversight of digital enterprises. The newest member of the NBCU family most recently served as executive vice president of Comcast’s Xfinity services, heading strategy and development for pay-TV distributor Xfinity TV as well as its internet, home and voice products and services.
To some degree, the shift makes sense.
Prior to her role at the head of Peacock, Hammer had a long tenure as chairman of the company’s cable entertainment division, overseeing USA Network, Syfy, Bravo, Oxygen, E! and Universal Kids on the network side, as well as UCP and Wilshire Studios on the studio side. The Oct. 7 move puts her in the content-production driver’s seat, with all broadcast and cable scripted studio operations under her purview. Recently anointed Peacock programming head Bill McGoldrick, a longtime Hammer deputy, will continue to work with her to steer content for the streaming service.
And now that Hammer has primed the pump for Peacock, shaping its programming philosophy, Strauss can use his Xfinity experience to take the over-the-top product across the finish line in April 2020.
“The team at Peacock has done a fantastic job building a solid foundation for a competitive direct-to-consumer offering,” Strauss tells Variety. “With great content, a strong brand and the best team in the industry, we’re well positioned for success. I can’t wait to get started.”
But Strauss represents a different breed of exec from Hammer — one whose background is product-oriented, not content-oriented. Handing a critical component of NBCUniversal’s future to such an exec, one who is unknown to Hollywood, speaks to Comcast’s priorities heading into the Peacock launch. When it bows next year, Peacock will enter a highly competitive market that will include Disney Plus and Apple TV Plus, as well as fellow spring entrants Quibi and HBO Max.
In the old world order, major media companies maintained silos to preserve culture and independence, says Moffett. But reorganization seems inevitable as these multipronged entities centralize their operations.
That Comcast executives hadn’t previously been shoehorned into its entertainment subsidiary, which it acquired less than a decade ago, “speaks to the kind of respectfulness they have at the organization [toward] NBCU,” Moffett says. “They don’t want to do anything that feels like trampling in the rose garden.”
“Comcast has generally struck a pretty good balance of keeping what’s special about NBCU,” he adds, noting that the risk of moving the pieces around too quickly is that corporate talent could start walking out the door. Conversely, moving too slowly means that media companies risk missing their marks in an evolving entertainment market.
As NBCU entertainment chief Telegdy tells Variety: “NBC’s iconic brand will remain a beacon of positivity, relevance and inclusion for millions of people across the country every night. As the primary content and creativity engine, NBC is now poised to collaborate with Peacock and the newly created NBCUniversal Content Studios to migrate audiences throughout our content ecosystem.”