×

NBCUniversal Shakeup: Mark Lazarus, Jeff Shell and Bonnie Hammer Promoted, Streaming Service to Launch in 2020 (EXCLUSIVE)

NBCUniversal is set to unveil a major shakeup of its top executive ranks as CEO Steve Burke reorganizes his direct reports and the company prepares for the launch of a streaming service next year, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Mark Lazarus and Jeff Shell will take on expanded roles overseeing NBCUniversal’s vast television operations. Longtime cable chief Bonnie Hammer will shift to oversee NBCU’s streaming plans, which will be somewhat different from those burnished by many of the company’s competitors. The offering will be free to NBCU pay-cable subscribers in the U.S. and will be supported by advertising.

Among the many changes coming to NBCU:

  • Mark Lazarus, currently supervisor of NBC Sports and stations, will expand his oversight and become chairman, NBCUniversal Broadcast, Cable, Sports and News. He will run cable operations previously managed by Hammer as well as NBCU’s various news operations, including NBC News and CNBC.
  • Jeff Shell, currently chairman of Universal Filmed Entertainment Group, will expand his duties and become chairman of NBCUniversal Film and Entertainment. He will take oversight of NBC Entertainment, Telemundo, and NBCU’s international operations.
  • Bonnie Hammer will become chairman of Direct-to-Consumer and Digital Enterprises for NBCU, and will also supervise the company’s stakes in digital-media outlets like Vox, Snap and Buzzfeed. Maggie Suniewick,who leads the company’s digital enterprises group, will report to Hammer.
  • Donna Langley will become chairman, Universal Filmed Entertainment Group, adding global theatrical distribution and home entertainment to her portfolio. She becomes the only woman at present to lead a major Hollywood studio. She continues to report to Shell.
  • NBC News Chairman Andy Lack and CNBC Chairman and CEO Mark Hoffman will report to Lazarus. Cesar Conde, who oversees Telemundo and international operations, will report to Shell. Linda Yaccarino, chairman of ad sales and client partnerships, continues to report to Burke, as will Shell, Lazarus, Hammer and NBCUniversal vice chairman Ron Meyer, among others.

The moves will reduce the number of people reporting directly to the NBCU CEO, and spotlight the growing urgency big media companies are placing on getting into direct-to-consumer streaming. Digital-video companies like Netflix and Amazon have become increasingly formidable competitors. And while NBCU parent Comcast is a charter stakeholder in Hulu, rival Walt Disney Co. is expected to gain majority control of that outlet when it completes its purchase of a large chunk of 21st Century Fox this year.

Meanwhile, both Disney and AT&T’s Warner Media are slated to launch video-streaming services of their own in 2019. CBS has ad-supported streaming for sports and news and a subscription streaming service, CBS All Access. And Fox News launched its Fox Nation subscription outlet late last year.

Hammer, a TV executive whose days in the medium tie back to the classic PBS series “Zoom,” will potentially play a critical role in NBCU’s future. Plans call for the new streaming service to be made available to subscribers to both Comcast, NBCU’s parent company, as well as Sky PLC, the European satellite broadcaster that Comcast acquired control in last year. In all, NBCU will make the service available to 52 million subscribers. The service is expected to feature original content and programming from outside partners as well as material from the company’s archives. An ad-free version will also be available for a fee, and, non-pay TV customers can purchase a subscription separately.

Elevation of Lazarus and Shell could position either as a possible successor to Burke. Burke’s current employment contract expires in 2020. There is no hint that the 60-year-old executive is preparing to leave in the near future.

The two executives stand to gain more responsibility as Comcast has pushed to expand NBCUniversal. The parent company made a serious bid last year for cable-and-studio assets owned by 21st Century Fox that eventually ended up being sold to Walt Disney. That transaction is expected to close soon. Despite Disney prevailing in that effort, Comcast’s acquisition of Sky will give it more exposure to international markets, more heft in negotiations for sports rights and a new international partner for NBC News.

NBCU has, like many other media companies, grappled with the migration of viewers from linear TV-watching to on-demand viewing. The company has over the years culled its cable portfolio, shuttering cable networks like Esquire and Cloo that it believes cannot perform up to a certain level. And it has invested in digital-content companies like the aforementioned outlets in an effort to gain a toehold in a world where younger consumers are flocking to upstart content brands.

In a recent call with investors, Burke indicated satisfaction with the outlook for NBCU’s business, but also suggested executives were monitoring trends. “Our television business continues to be very, very strong,” he said. “And I think as the world pivots here toward more streaming, we want to make sure that we respect and nurture and continue to invest and continue to outperform on the television side wherever the world goes in terms of new technologies.”

Both Shell and Lazarus have extensive experience overseeing big media operations.

Shell joined Comcast first as president of Comcast’s programming group, which at the time meant managing the company’s interests and investments in national and regional cable outlets. Prior to that, he was CEO of Gemstar-TV Guide International and president of Fox’s entertainment-focused cable operations when that company was part of News Corp.

Lazarus, meanwhile, has served stints as president of Turner Sports when it was part of Time Warner, and president of Turner’s entertainment-focused cable networks. He first joined NBCU as president of NBC Sports Cable Group, and was then named chairman of NBC Sports in May of 2011. He is the ultimate manager of NBCU’s relationships with the National Football League and the International Olympic Committee, two programming ties critical to the company’s business. In 2016, he was given oversight of the owned-and-operated stations as well as network operations and broadcast standards. His growing responsibilities prompted NBC Sports to instill a new president, Pete Bevaqua, at the unit – the first time that role has been filled since Comcast reorganized the unit after acquiring control of NBCUniversal.

(Above, pictured: Mark Lazarus, Jeff Shell and Bonnie Hammer)

More Biz

  • Alan Horn Bill Tanner

    Alan Horn to Keynote Variety Business Managers Elite Breakfast, Bill Tanner to Be Honored

    Bill Tanner will be recognized with Variety’s 2019 Business Managers Elite Award at the annual Business Managers Elite Breakfast presented by City National Bank, which takes place in Beverly Hills on Nov. 13. Co-chairman and chief creative officer of The Walt Disney Studios Alan Horn will be the keynote speaker in conversation with Variety editor-in-chief, [...]

  • Smoke haze covers the Sydney Harbour

    Australia's Seven West to Merge With Affiliate Prime Media

    Australia’s Seven West Media has agreed a deal to acquire regional broadcast group Prime Media. The move is a further step in the consolidation of Australia’s traditional media industry. The two companies announced on Friday that Seven will make the acquisition entirely through the issue of new shares to the owners of Prime. Both companies [...]

  • Ron Meyer

    Ron Meyer Files $10 Million Suit Over Forged Rothko

    NBCUniversal Vice Chairman Ron Meyer has filed a $10 million suit against two art dealers, claiming they sold him a forged Mark Rothko painting in 2001. Meyer accuses Susan Seidel and Jaime Frankfort of duping him into buying the work. According to the suit, he was told that it would be included in an official [...]

  • Former movie producer Harvey Weinstein (L)

    Harvey Weinstein Seeks to Call Expert on 'Recovered' Memories at Rape Trial

    Harvey Weinstein’s attorneys are seeking to call an expert on “recovered memories” at his trial on rape and sexual assault charges. The defense has filed a motion asking to call Deborah Davis, a psychologist and professor at the University of Nevada at Reno. Davis is a frequent defense witness. She co-authored an article in 2006 [...]

  • Tekashi 6ix9ine Docuseries Coming From Showtime

    Tekashi 6ix9ine Docuseries Coming From Showtime and Rolling Stone

    Showtime Documentary Films today announced a new limited docuseries profiling controversial rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine. Titled “SuperVillain” and inspired by the Rolling Stone feature written by Stephen Witt, the three-part series will trace how a New York City deli clerk named Daniel Hernandez became superstar rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine — who racked up 2.6 billion streams and [...]

  • Fader Label Logo

    Fader Label Signs Two New Acts, Boosts Staff

    The Fader Label, home to Clairo, Matt and Kim and others, announced two new signings today along with three new hires on its staff. Charlie Burg and Zachary Knowles have joined the label’s talent roster, while Carson Oberg has come aboard as general manager, Yasmine Panah as project manager and Josh Hymowitz as label coordinator. They [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content