NBCUniversal chief plans revamp, set to focus on streaming

NBCUniversal, which owns cable networks like Bravo, E!, USA and Syfy, is reportedly overhauling its entertainment division to focus on video streaming.

The rise of cord cutting and the coronavirus pandemic has pushed NBCU Chief Executive Jeff Shell to take a scalpel to the media conglomerate’s business, and has made him rethink the inner workings of the company, according to a new report.

Shell is in the process of centralizing the decision-making process on which shows get made and which networks they should run on, which, in turn, has diminished the power the cable unit once wielded, The Wall Street Journal said.

The newspaper pointed to the fact that top cable execs are getting pushed out and their jobs aren’t being replaced amid broader layoffs at the company.  Case in point: Last week, Chris McCumber, president of USA and Syfy Networks, got let go and his job will not be filled, according to NBC.

“The days of building that singular cable network with its own team and needs are long gone,” Mark Stern, a former Syfy executive and current president of Echoverse, a podcast studio, told The Journal.

Some of NBCU’s cable channels don’t have a long-term future as more consumers are getting rid of their cable packages and opting for streaming, sources told the Journal. They include entertainment channel, E!, home of red-carpet coverage at awards shows; Syfy, home to thrillers and science-fiction flicks; and Oxygen, a channel that originally launched as a network for women but has morphed into a true-crime network.

An NBCU rep did not address the specific networks but said: “NBCUniversal’s cable networks carry some of the most popular programming in the industry and are enormously profitable. They will continue to be a valuable part of our portfolio for fans, advertisers and our shareholders.”

Several of NBCUniversal’s entertainment networks, including Bravo, E!, Syfy and USA, have lost more than 10 million subscribers each since 2014, according to Nielsen data. And cable providers have pushed back hard on paying for less popular channels, setting up the possibility that some channels will be phased out from cable bundles.

Still, NBCU’s cable networks are profitable overall, thanks in part to price increases. Last year, cable sales totaled $11.5 billion of NBCU’s overall $34 billion in revenue. The Comcast-owned media company, which includes Hollywood production studio Universal Pictures, amusement park Universal Studios and its namesake cable provider, still derives the bulk of its business from high-speed internet.

Wall Street is likely to pay close attention to Comcast’s results this year as the pandemic continues to cause delays in film and TV production, as well as the reopening of amusement parks and movie theaters. In the second quarter, NBCU’s revenue slid over 25 percent to $6.1 billion.

In order to pump up its business, NBCU is focusing less on the brand power of its networks and more on its marquee shows, such as “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” which airs on E! and is ending in 2021, and “Real Housewives” on Bravo, sources told The Journal.

The media giant is also focusing on Peacock, its new streaming service, which launched in July, as a centerpiece of its programming strategy. Under Shell, newly appointed chairman Mark Lazarus, is overseeing a more nimble TV and streaming division. It includes Frances Berwick, who runs the business operations across all NBCU’s entertainment properties, and Susan Rovner, a new hire from Warner Bros., who is slated to join the company in the coming weeks to oversee all programming.

Some of the revamping has also been ignited by an explosive July report from The Hollywood Reporter, which exposed a toxic workplace culture led by NBC Entertainment chairman Paul Telegdy and his deputy, Meredith Ahr.

While Telegdy, who was the focus of the report, was ousted last month, Ahr remains at the company running the unscripted & alternative reality division. But as The Post revealed last week, NBCU has been in talks with candidates, including Michael Darnell, a reality TV exec from Warner Bros., for Ahr’s job.

NBCU did not comment further on the company reorganization.

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