NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke to Depart in 2020, Jeff Shell Expected to Succeed Him (EXCLUSIVE)

Steve Burke is expected to step down as CEO of NBCUniversal next year and is likely to hand the reins to Jeff Shell, who is now chairman of NBCUniversal Film and Entertainment, multiple sources tell Variety.

Burke’s NBCUniversal contract formally expires in August 2020, but sources say he could depart earlier in the year. Shell, who is now based in Los Angeles, will split his time between New York and the West Coast should he assume the CEO post, according to people familiar with his plans.

An NBCUniversal spokesman declined to comment on the matter.

In January, Burke enacted a dramatic shakeup of NBCUni leadership that placed Shell in a prime position to replace him, industry insiders noted at the time.

In the reorganization, Shell gained oversight of NBC Entertainment, Telemundo and NBCU’s international operations, in addition to overseeing the Universal Studios outfit. Shell’s colleague Mark Lazarus was also upped to chairman of NBCUniversal broadcast, cable, sports and news in January.

Lazarus had been viewed as another potential successor for Burke. However, as speculation about Burke’s future has increased internally over the past few weeks, insiders say they’re confident that Shell is the heir apparent.

Burke, who has elected to leave his NBCUniversal post, is working on formalizing his exit plans. No deals are yet in place for Burke or a successor, another insider added. There is speculation that Burke could move into a top role at Comcast or oversee Sky, the satellite TV giant Comcast acquired last year for $40 billion. He already serves as senior executive VP of Comcast in addition to leading NBCU.

The January restructuring set the stage for a CEO transition at NBCU as it streamlined the senior management of key divisions and minimized the number of direct reports into Burke. In addition to the portfolio bumps for Shell and Lazarus, Bonnie Hammer shifted from running NBCU’s entertainment cable networks to become chairman of direct-to-consumer and digital enterprises, where she steered the launch plans for Peacock, NBCUniversal’s streaming service set to debut in April. Hammer in October moved again to the role of NBCUniversal Content Studios chairman, overseeing all broadcast, cable and digital production for the company.

Donna Langley became the sole chairman of the Universal Filmed Entertainment Group, adding global theatrical distribution and home entertainment to her portfolio. She reports to Shell.

Burke was named CEO in January 2011, when Comcast closed its initial acquisition of a majority stake in NBCUniversal from General Electric. Burke was previously chief operating officer of Comcast and before that, president of Comcast Cable. He has become a trusted lieutenant of Comcast chairman-CEO Brian Roberts since he joined the company in 1998 from Disney to run Comcast’s cable division.

Burke has presided over an impressive revival of the NBC broadcast network and expansion of operations in all areas of the business, from film and TV to theme parks and international operations, most notably with Comcast’s pursuit of Sky as it battled Disney last year in the effort to acquire 21st Century Fox.

Shell is an industry veteran who has been seen as a successor candidate for Burke for some time. Early in his career he worked for Disney in strategic planning before moving to News Corp. He rose to president of Fox Cable Networks Group, overseeing all entertainment and sports channels, and then segued to become CEO of News Corp. owned Gemstar-TV Guide International. He joined Comcast in late 2004 to run several cable channels including E!, the Golf Channel and a collection of regional sports networks.

More recently, Shell has had a tour of NBCUniversal, a trajectory that helped focus attention on him as a candidate to replace Burke. He was dispatched to London to serve as head of all international operations for NBCUniversal shortly after Comcast acquired the company. In September 2013 Burke surprised Hollywood by tapping Shell to replace Adam Fogelson at the top of Universal Pictures and related units.

(Pictured: Steve Burke and Jeff Shell)

More TV

  • Tony Hall BBC Director General

    BBC Boss Tony Hall Set to Join U.K.'s National Gallery

    BBC director general Tony Hall is set to take the top job at London’s National Gallery, according to reports The news, which has not yet been confirmed, follows Hall’s announcement earlier today that he is to depart the corporation after seven years as director general. BBC chairman David Clementi will begin a search for Hall’s [...]

  • Fox TV Stations Greenlight 'Central Ave'

    Fox TV Stations Greenlight 'Central Ave' From Will Packer, Debmar-Mercury

    Fox Television Stations has ordered the weekly entertainment news magazine “Central Ave,” which hails from prolific film and TV producer Will Packer and Lionsgate’s Debmar-Mercury. Debmar-Mercury and Will Packer Media will produce two half-hour shows per week of “Central Ave,” which tackles pop culture and other topics from a “socially conscious and diverse lens,” per [...]

  • Tony Hall, Director General of the

    Frontrunners Emerge as BBC Boss Tony Hall Set to Leave Broadcasting Behind

    As the U.K. industry reacts to news of Tony Hall’s intention to depart the BBC this July, top-level executives including Charlotte Moore and Tim Davie as well as external contenders such as Channel 4’s Alex Mahon are beginning to emerge. Variety understands that Lord Hall, who has headed the BBC for seven years as director [...]

  • Gustavo Mello and Ran Tellem

    Boutique Filmes, The Mediapro Studio Team for ‘To Kill a Queen’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    MADRID — Gustavo and Tiago Mello’s São Paulo-based Boutique Filmes, producers of early Netflix Original overseas breakout “3%,” is teaming with high-end drama powerhouse The Mediapro Studio (“The New Pope,” “The Head”) to produce “To Kill a Queen.” International sales rights on the series will be handled by The Mediapro Studio Distribution. From an original [...]

  • Donald Trump Hollywood Racism

    Impeachment Trial Adds to TV's Breaking-News Juggle

    As if TV news needed more headlines… The usual suspects are gearing up to cover the U.S. Senate’s impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, the latest swirl in what seems to be a never-ending news cycle centered on the White House. But the impeachment proceedings, which kick off in earnest Tuesday, take place as many [...]

  • Blood Oath

    MBC Studios to Launch Arabic TV Series 'Blood Oath,' Written by Britain's Tony Jordan

    MBC Studios, the Saudi-owned production unit of top Middle Eastern free-to-air satellite network MBC Group is set to launch “Blood Oath,” an Arabic crime series written by Britain’s Tony Jordan (“EastEnders,” “Life on Mars”). The announcement comes as Dubai-based MBC Studios, set up in 2018 and headed by former president of NBCUniversal International Peter Smith, is [...]

  • Tony Hall BBC Director General

    BBC Director-General Tony Hall to Step Down

    Tony Hall will step down as director general of the BBC this summer. “Tony Hall is an inspirational creative leader, within the UK and around the globe, and the BBC has been lucky to have him as our Director-General for the last seven years,” BBC chairman Sir David Clementi said in a statement. “Tony has [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content