No surprise here. Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, whose family controls the company, has extended his contract for one more year to June 30, 2015. Roberts’ decision comes as the Comcast’s $45.2 billion offer for Time Warner Cable remains under regulatory review. According to a proxy filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Roberts earned $31.36 million last year, up from $29.1 million in 2012. During Roberts’ oversee of Comcast, the cable company bought NBC-Universal in 2011.
Sometimes, deadpan humor goes a long way with the Washington D.C. crowd (Joel McHale, take note), and Parks and Recreation straight man Nick Offerman served up a number of zingers about Hollywood and the Beltway at Thursday’s 70th annual Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner at the Marriot Marquis. White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough addressed the crowd, speaking humorously about his job but turned a serious note when it came to democracy and debate, while Offerman took care of the entertainment. Some particular highlights from Offerman’s speech below: “According to the Supreme Court, corporations are now considered as people, which is great because it’s always been my dream to punch Time Warner in the face.” Also: “Between Republicans and Democrats, this city has become a noxious stink hole, where very little gets down because of backstabbing, deceit and greed. Just want to thank all of you for allowing a Hollywood actor like myself feel welcome. But Republicans have come around on sex education: I understand they’ve allowed to teach fracking in schools.” Enjoy:
UPDATE, 6:45 AM: In this morning’s analyst call, NBCUniversal chief Steve Burke subtly dinged General Electric for its management of NBC until January, when Comcast took charge. He says the conglomerate hadn’t supplied the cash that’s “necessary to compete.” Burke says Comcast is changing that: “In general we see this year, and next year probably, as investment years.” The turnaround at primetime’s No. 4 broadcast network could take as long as four years, but “I’m confident we’ll get there.” Burke says Comcast has an initiative called Symphony to market NBCU programming across company assets including VOD and online. It increased the production and marketing budgets for The Voice several times after the company realized the talent contest would be a hit. The next season will debut right after the Super Bowl in February. Meanwhile, NBCU’s cable networks are ordering more original series including USA’s Suits and Necessary Roughness and Syfy’s Alphas. Comcast also is beefing up its TV stations’ local news. It’s adding 135 people at 10 stations including 40 reporters and 20 producers; five markets are building investigative units. Burke says the investments will pay off: With growing revenue from retransmission consent deals and license fees from online streaming services such as Netflix, “content is more valuable today than it was” when Comcast agreed to buy NBCU. He adds that despite the weak economy “we don’t see any signs of deceleration” in ad sales. CEO Brian Roberts echoed Burke’s enthusiasm but warned analysts that “we have to have realistic expectations.” Roberts added that while “there’s economic news that’s rattled the markets,” Comcast is still “investing and getting good financial results.”
PREVIOUS, 4:20 AM: Comcast generated 2Q net income of $1.02B, up 15.6% vs the same period last year, on revenues of $14.3B, up 50.5%. But earnings, at 37 cents a share, missed the 41 cent target among analysts who follow the company. They expected revenues to come in at $13.8B.
Universal is still denying that Focus Features is on the auction block. A new round of rumors about it surfaced today. And it’s true that, before Comcast took over NBC Universal, the company was listening to offers for the specialty division. But our fresh information is that Comcast now has no interest in selling Focus and the new owners won’t even take potential buyers’ calls anymore.
Time Warner Jeff Bewkes comes across as the media world’s most laid-back CEO. But he asked a lot this morning when he told movie theater owners to cool their jets about Premium VOD. “There’s been too much excitement about this,” Bewkes said at a panel discussion sponsored by investment firm Jefferies & Co. “Our interests are aligned.” That will come as a surprise to the National Association of Theater Owners and its members who loathe PVOD as much as the Tea Party hates taxes. Exhibitors say many would-be ticket buyers will wait to watch films at home as studios including Warner Bros begin to offer 8-week-old releases on cable and satellite VOD services for about $30 a showing. Bewkes says theater owners are wrong: “I’m saying (box office revenue) doesn’t go down.” Everyone will suffer, he says, if the studios can’t provide an alternative to pirates who sell bootlegged copies of recent movies to people who don’t want to wait for the official home video release. Other panel members — none of them exhibitors — supported Bewkes. CBS chief Les Moonves said that although theater owners are scared, “you have to change a bit.” And Sony Corporation of America CFO Robert Wiesenthal said that “everybody is experimenting and being aggressive,” even though studios should recognize that theaters are “the foundation of the economic value chain for a feature film.”
Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) is still not happy about the Comcast-NBC Univeral deal. Waters was critical from the onset during all steps of the merger approval process, even grilling Jeff Zucker about the lack of minority programming last year. If you remember, even 30 Rock got in on the anger, parodying Waters with a character played by Queen Latifah. Now Waters has taken aim at the actual conditions stipulated by the FCC, which okayed the marriage last week. As revealed by the commission, Comcast agreed to certain things that would indicate that it’s a kind-and-gentle corporation. Among the promises: more content for minority groups and more local news and childrens programming. The company also said it would create more of an equal playing field – that it wouldn’t withhold programming from online competitors — and that it would launch new independent cable channels. But in her statement, Waters said, “I do not believe the American public can have much confidence in Comcast-NBCU’s commitment to launch 10 new independent channels when current networks have had so many challenges negotiating reasonable carriage terms with the cable giant.”
The organizers of the Saban Free Clinic’s Annual Dinner Gala must have been scrambling today to update all the materials for the Monday event with the new title for the night’s top honoree, Robert Greenblatt, who today was named chairman of NBC Entertainment as part of the post-merger management structure of NBC Universal unveiled by the company’s incoming CEO Steve Burke.
Greenblatt, who will oversee the network and sister studio UMS, won’t be conducting any business, including meeting with his staff or talking to agents, until the merger is approved, something sources suggest may happen in mid-January. By then, the broadcast networks will be in the thick of picking up drama pilots, so Greenblatt would have to jump right in. He is expected to begin familiarizing himself with NBC’s development right away and will probably read pilot scripts as they come in to be able to start making greenlight decisions on Day 1. Drama has been a particularly vulnerable area for NBC with no new series introduced in the past couple of years lasting more than a season and a weak freshman drama class this fall. That makes the future of NBC’s head of drama Laura Lancaster uncertain. Greenblatt is still a ways away from making any personnel changes, but after he officially starts, he is expected to make some. In today’s memo, there was good news for 2 NBC veterans, Marc Graboff, chairman of NBC Entertainment and UMS, and Angela Bromstad, president of primetime entertainment. While the announcement didn’t mention their titles, leaving the door open to them changing, they were mentioned by name as reporting to Greenblatt in the new chain of command. That means that both are factoring into new Burke’s immediate plans for NBC. From then on, it will be up to Greenblatt.
8TH UPDATE: Comcast is clearing the way for its pending announcement of the new NBC Universal top executive structure. Jeff Gaspin, who had felt more and more as the odd man out in Comcast’s plans for the post-merger NBCU, just sent out a note to NBC Universal employees announcing that he will depart the company following its merger with Comcast after he and new NBCU CEO Steve Burke “could not agree on an appropriate role” for him in the new company. Gaspin had 4 years left on his contract, which was breached by the merger and Burke replacing Jeff Zucker. Gaspin was furious when a report last week claimed he was gone because it wasn’t true: in fact the two men hadn’t made that decision yet even though everyone guessed that’d be the ultimate conclusion because it’s known that Burke wants to decrease the media company’s layers of management. Gaspin has spent a combined 19 years at NBCU, most recently as chairman of NBC Universal TV Entertainment. “I want to thank Jeff for his many significant contributions to NBCU and for his professionalism throughout the integration process,” Burke said in a statement. After sending the memo, Gaspin gathered his senior executive team for an emotional meeting.
EXCLUSIVE… 6TH & 7TH UPDATE: Jeff Gaspin is flying on an NBC Universal corporate jet from NYC back to LA right now and is telling fellow passengers that a report he is leaving the company is “not accurate”. As we’ve been saying all along, there are a lot of moving parts to this NBCU organizational restructure, and a lot hasn’t been pinned down yet. Gaspin, who is NBCU Television Group President/COO, falls into that category. We’ve learned that he hasn’t had a “definitive conversation” with Comcast about his future yet. And the fact is that, as of today, his future has not been decided. “It may turn out to be true that he leaves. And he’s preparing for it. But it’s not true right now,” an insider just told us.
EXCLUSIVE… 5TH UPDATE: We’ve confirmed that onetime CBS bigwig and now consultant Nancy Tellem has indeed been in formal talks with Comcast brass about taking a top job at NBC alongside Robert Greenblatt. The idea was that he would be in charge of creative, and she would fill a parallel NYC-based network president-type job. Both would report to new NBC Universal CEO Steve Burke. As we reported Comcast hopes to announce the new NBC Universal organizational structure — one which now may or may not include Jeff Gaspin who got on a plane Monday for NYC Monday to meet with Comcast brass. About Tellem, “Comcast is talking to her. Nothing has been decided yet though because there are still ongoing issues. But people are trying to work through those issues,” one insider told us. ”She wants to do it. She just has to make sure the job is right.” Tellem was among half a dozen top-level broadcast executives (including Fox Network Group Chairman/CEO Tony Vinciquerra) approached by Burke some months ago after the Comcast/NBC deal was announced. Tellem was most recently boss of the bulk of CBS Inc’s entertainment operations until she stepped down in December 2009 to become Senior Advisor To The CEO.
GE this morning reported its 3rd quarter earnings for NBC Universal and revenues were flat at $4.1 billion with operating profit down 15%. “But NBCU revenue and operating profit were favorable compared to the year-ago period after adjusting for 2009 transactions without comparable events in 2010,” the parent company said. GE is selling a majority stake in NBCU to Comcast in a deal still waiting for U.S. regulatory approval.
The federal regulatory body wants more info from Comcast and NBC Universal like details on carriage deals, online distribution, rates, and so on while it reviews the planned merger. The FCC made another follow-up request on Monday in letters to both companies and demanded compliance in the form of written and electronic compliance by October 18th. Broadcasting & Cable was first with the details. Requests like this that makes insiders and outsiders think the merger approval may extend beyond the end of 2010. And yet, publicly and privately, Comcast’s Steve Burke last week began to take control of NBCU as its new CEO, replacing Jeff Zucker whom he fired. The FCC is requesting the following info based on its documents:
Ever since the NBC Universal-Comcast merger was announced last year, the obnoxious Lauren Zalaznick has been lobbying for a bigger role within the combined company. And, in the process, she’s made a pest of herself from what I hear. The president of NBC Universal Women & Lifestyle Entertainment Networks oversees Bravo, Oxygen, and iVillage, and has indicated not very subtlely that a small addition to her current portfolio, such as Comcast’s Style Network, won’t cut it. She’s also threatening to seek greener pastures elsewhere. Sources tell Deadline that Zalaznick took meetings recently with Viacom president/CEO Philippe Dauman and top Viacom cable executives execs including Van Toffler, president of MTV Networks Music /Films /Logo Group. Though these meetings have been described to Deadline as only exploratory, Zalaznick is trying to make Comcast & NBCU believe she’s being eyed for Judy McGrath’s job as chairman/CEO of MTV Networks. Interesting that, last December, Zalaznick was so worried there’d be no upward mobility for her post-merger that she floated speculation she was in advanced talks to take Brian Graden’s job as MTV President of Entertainment running MTV and VH1. Didn’t happen.
The problem for Zalaznick is that her persistent maneuvering is hurting her, not helping her. Meanwhile, Bonnie Hammer is sitting pretty on NBCU’s golden egg, overseeing the company’s most lucrative assets: USA Networks, SyFy, and their in-house studio that produces most of the channels’ series. Zalaznick has tried to make everybody think of herself on the same level as Hammer, even to the point of leaking to the media …
As far back as a year ago this October, I first reported that Comcast Corp COO/No. 2 Steve Burke would be running NBC Universal and replacing Jeff Zucker. And in November I explained that, because Burke would have his hands full there, Neil Smits from Charter Communication had been hired to assume Burke’s Comcast Cable Communications responsibilities. So today’s announcement is more than year old news to regular readers of Deadline Hollywood. Still, today’s official announcement really hits Zucker where it hurts coming just 2 1/2 weeks after he was shitcanned by Burke. Zucker on Friday decided to reveal his firing because he’d just finished negotiating his severance package. He sent an email to NBCU staff and told reporters Burke had made it clear that Comcast wanted to move on at the close of the deal so Zucker had to move off the top job.
Unlike Jeff who was widely regarded in Hollywood and NYC as a pretender to the throne, Steve is true showbiz royalty by blood. He’s the son of Dan Burke, the former president of Capital Cities/ABC before it was bought by Disney. The younger Burke graduated with an MBA from Harvard Business School then joined Disney in 1986 and founded Disney Stores, then served as president of Euro Disney. He kept rising and became ABC broadcasting president. But left 10 years ago to join Comcast, where Steve was the architect of the largest cable company’s 2004 hostile takeover attempt of Disney. (Burke’s loathing of FrankenEisner was an open secret.) I recall that, during the Mouse House bid, Burke pledged to return Disney’s …
JEFF ZUCKER FIRED BY STEVE BURKE: Comcast “Wanted To Move On” After Merge; NBCU Chief Emails Staff About Forced Exit
BREAKING NEWS! 6TH UPDATE: Jeff Zucker decided to reveal this morning he’d been fired by Comcast because he’d just finished negotiating his severance package, insiders explain to me. So Zucker told reporters that the decision for him to leave as head of NBC Universal was made for him by Comcast COO Steve Burke 2 weeks ago during a face-to-face meeting. “He made it clear that they wanted to move on at the close of the deal and I was completely comfortable with that,” Zucker told his favorite journalist, Bill Carter of The New York Times. “We had both gotten to the same place.” It has long been expected that, once NBCU switched out of GE’s control where Zucker was inexplicably protected by CEO Jeffrey Immelt, the savvy Comcast brass would recognize how badly the NBCU topper had “Zucked-up” his job. (I scooped how, during Zucker’s mishandling of the Conan O’Brien-Jay Leno Tonight Show situation, private emails went out from high-level executives at Comcast saying, “What a mess.”)
But General Electric, a company that used to prize only excellence, kept rewarding Zucker’s failures. Then again, Zucker was embarrassingly proud that he kept managing for margins, not programming for ratings. So NBC eventually stood for Nothing But Crap. When he got beat up by the media, he decided that the company should go to DEFCON 1 (the defense readiness condition representing expectation of an imminent attack) and set up a PR War Room filled with flacks to fight back. As a way to cover his ass in the event Comcast did kick him to the curb, Zucker earlier this year bizarrely sent up a trial balloon that he might run for public office instead of run NBCU. Now that he’s odd man out, no one is taking up a collection: Immelt bestowed on Zucker a new 3-year contract so Comcast had to negotiate a rich payout.
Zucker told senior staff later this morning it would be “business as usual” for him until Comcast took control of NBCU. But he ran to whine to NYT‘s Bill Carter, who’s generally recognized as a suck-up to network moguls. (Carter is writing a book about the Late Night Follies involving Conan O’Brien and Jay Leno and David Letterman that’s a sequel to his Late Shift. So the NYTimesman had worked overtime to ingratiate himself with Zucker.) Today, the NBCU chief described his forced exit as both “incredibly emotional” and “gut-wrenching” because he’d spent half his life at NBC. In previous interviews with journalists, Zucker had demonstrated considerable bravado and misplaced arrogance that “of course” he would run NBCU after Comcast took control of 51%. (He even made a bet with me that he’d still be NBCU’s media mogul two months after the merger. Hey, Jeff, I win!)
But today, Zucker backpeddled. “Look, I knew from the day this was announced that this was a possibility,” he told Carter. “I wasn’t going to shut the door on anything. But in the last nine months it became increasingly clear that they did want to put their own team in place — and I didn’t want to end up being a guest in my own house.”
What’s incredible, and demonstrates how much he’s still in denial, is that Zucker told Carter he did not detect “any particular reason” for Burke firing him beyond Comcast’s wanting to make a change.
There is no doubt that Zucker’s legacy in Hollywood will be as one of the most disliked executives ever to head a Big Media company. His rival moguls laughed at his humiliations. The agents and managers and lawyers treated him like a buffoon. Even his own NBC show 30 Rock and anointed late night comic Jay Leno made jokes at his expense every chance they got. And each time he made an error in judgment, which seemed like all the time, he never paid a price for his mistakes, which made ”Zucked” and “Zuckered” part of the media lexicon. That’s also why Zucker earned the moniker, ”Teflon Jeff”.
Zucker’s firing followed what I reported was a “charm offensive” he launched back in May. The NBCU chief tried to demonstrate he was a new and supposedly improved Zucker, a nicer Zucker, and not the thin-skinned humorless bully of a boss which the journalism and showbiz communities have come to know and dislike and ridicule. ”He’s being so nice to everyone, so friendly, a more lovable guy,” one top TV agent described Zucker to me after Universal boss Ron Meyer’s Easter party, then added presciently, “It’s because he knows he’s out.”
Indeed, the concensus was that Zucker’s charm offensive was really a defensive maneuver. It included taking full and sole responsibility for NBC broadcast network’s recent years in the ratings cellar. And failing to fire programming chief Ben Silverman a year earlier (though the boss still defended hiring that putz in the first place). And believing he could “reinvent” pilot season by getting away with spending little on new show development last year (though he defends spending heavily on this year’s pilot season). And installing Conan as Jay’s successor in late night wheen Leno was #1 and then putting Leno in primetime (though he defends replacing O’Brien as host of The Tonight Show).
Zucker was a wunderkind executive producer of The Today Show when, in December 2000, he was named NBC entertainment president to replace Garth Ancier, following a shaky start for the network that fall. But there were plenty of shaky fall launches for NBC under Zucker’s watch as NBC slipped from No. 1 to No. 4 in the ratings and failed to launch big noisy hit shows to succeed Friends and ER. Instead, Zucker embraced cheap and schlocky reality TV that undermined NBC’s quality brand. After a brief stint learning the ropes of the entertainment division where his biggest contribution was “supersizing” the network’s established Thursday comedies, Zucker quickly and surprisingly moved out and up. Eventually he replaced Bob Wright as CEO of NBC Universal. In that position, he presided over the downfall of the NBC broadcast network. He still can’t get it right. Even after spending enormously on primetime scripted development for this fall, NBC’s new lineup has been a mixed bag so far, with newcomers like The Event and Outsourced showing promise while Undercovers and Chase are lagging behind.
With nothing good to report ever about NBC Entertainment, Zucker liked to take credit for growing NBCU’s empire. The farflung cable division run by Bonnie Hammer remains a big revenue driver, providing 80% of NBCU’s $2.3 billion in profits for last year. But, really, Zucker by buying up cable properties (Oxygen, The Weather Channel, etc) has just been following the cable road mapped out by predeccessor Bob Wright to counter broadcast’s steep slide — yet taking credit for reinventing the wheel that drove NBCU there.
3RD UPDATE 8:10 AM: Still, the timing is a shocker. How bizarre that Zucker made the announcement to his staff this morning even though Comcast won’t clear regulatory hurdles until First Quarter 2011 at the earliest.
As Comcast is working on its pending acquisition of NBC, the cable giant has inked a long-term carriage agreement with rival CBS. It is part of a 10-year pact with CBS Corp. that some say may be the biggest carriage deal ever. The ten-year agreement gives Comcast retransmission consent to carry the CBS TV stations until 2020, and I hear it includes a retransmission consent fee. It also includes carriage of all Showtime Networks, a significant commitment in the crowded premium cable space. Additionally, Comcast will be launching the Smithsonian Channel and expanding distribution of CBS College Sports and of on-demand access to CBS and Showtime.
Who else wonders if, under Comcast, NBC Universal will continue to let the awful Andy Cohen run Bravo like his private playground. His awful interviews… His awful talk show… And, of course, the awful way he fills the channel with his friends. The latest Cohen BFF on Bravo is Bruce Bozzi Jr, executive vice president of the Palm Restaurants Group, who showed up on last night’s “he stole my pea puree!” episode of Top Chef Washington DC. Granted, Bruce is quite a dish himself and ready to be the next unscripted star. Not to worry, he already has an agent: he’s the longtime partner of CAA’s Bryan Lourd.