LOS ANGELES — Comcast Corp.'s second-in-command Steve Burke will become chief executive of NBC Universal when the merger of the entertainment assets of Comcast and General Electric Co. is complete, the two companies announced Sunday.
Burke, 52, will succeed Jeff Zucker, 45, who said Friday that he would step down when Philadelphia-based Comcast
assumes control of NBC Universal, which is expected to happen late this
year or early 2011. The two companies are awaiting the federal
government's approval of their $30 billion transaction.
Comcast is to control 51 percent of NBC Universal; GE is to retain 49 percent.
The naming of Burke as CEO was expected. Zucker —
who since 2007 has been running the sprawling media empire that owns
such assets as the NBC network, the Universal movie studio and theme parks, the Spanish-language Telemundo network and cable TV channels USA, Bravo, Syfy, MSNBC and CNBC — will stay on for several months.
Burke, a longtime Walt Disney Co. executive who has been a senior executive at Comcast
since 1998, will face substantial challenges. He must navigate a
suddenly bulked-up media company through a digital revolution, which is
threatening to undermine the long-established economics of the media
business. Burke will have to determine whether Universal movies should
be released earlier on DVD, video on demand and online services, which
could hurt movie theater owners. He also must decide whether NBC will make episodes of its popular TV shows available for free on the website Hulu, which is partly owned by NBC Universal.
But first he must assemble his own team without alienating key NBC lieutenants or his future partners within GE during the transition. Although Comcast is allowed to plan for the integration of the two companies, federal rules prohibit Comcast executives from officially calling the shots until they control the venture.
During the last nine months, Burke has been meeting
with senior executives and working to create a more streamlined
management structure for NBC Universal — an endeavor that has put
several Comcast and NBC executives in competition for the same jobs. Burke has not yet discussed with key NBC
executives what their futures might be, but he has said that he will
have his team assembled and ready to go as soon as the deal closes.
Burke prides himself as being a straight shooter who
dislikes the drama of office politics or underlings who seek the media
spotlight. Among his top priorities will be to establish a more
toned-down culture at NBC Universal, which has a string of able
executives, many with big egos.
Burke was not available Sunday, a Comcast spokeswoman said. After the merger, he will continue as chief operating officer of Comcast,
the nation's largest cable provider, in addition to being the CEO of
NBC Universal. The media company will remain headquartered in New York.
"Steve is one of the most well-respected executives
in the industry, and I am confident that he will lead NBCU forward to a
new era of growth," Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts said in a statement.
People who know Burke say that he has been training
for his new role for much of his life. Burke comes from a prominent
business family. His father, Dan Burke, was one of the two architects of the Capital Cities television station group that gobbled up ABC and later sold the company to Disney. His uncle, James Burke, was chairman of Johnson & Johnson during the deadly 1982 Tylenol scare.
Burke earned an MBA from the Harvard Business School in the same class as GE Chief Executive Jeffrey Immelt.
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