Bonnie Hammer Unveils Major NBCUniversal Cable Shakeup

Bonnie Hammer
Miller Mobley

Dave Howe takes on a broader strategic role as Chris McCumber adds oversight of Syfy and Bill McGoldrick assumes control of all scripted content.

Bonnie Hammer is once again shaking up her portfolio.

In a bid to remain competitive in an increasingly challenged landscape, the chairman of NBCUniversal's Cable Entertainment Group has restructured her network group, consolidating all scripted programming efforts and promoting several from within. “In this rapidly changing media environment, the biggest challenge is not only adapting to change, but staying one step ahead of it,” Hammer wrote Tuesday in a memo to her employees, adding in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter: “I’m trying to not only stay at pace with what’s going on outside but also trying to smartly act rather than react after the fact to what’s going on in our world." 

At the top end, Hammer is moving her long-tenured Syfy chief Dave Howe into a broader, more strategic role as president of strategy and growth for the network group, where he’ll bridge the creative and business needs across her collection of cable networks. Praising his ability to think about the “big picture,” Hammer suggested that she "needed somebody who was going to get out of the weeds and be [her] partner in maximizing everything that we do across the portfolio,” and Howe was equipped to fill that role. In the new position, he will focus on such things as looking at new technologies, exploring alternative models and dealing with both Silicon Beach and Silicon Valley.

As a result, USA president Chris McCumber, riding high on the success of summer breakout Mr. Robot, will now add Syfy as well as smaller nets Chiller and Cloo to his purview. Just as Hammer combined the lifestyle networks (Bravo, Oxygen, E! and Esquire) into a single group overseen by Frances Berwick in the fall of 2014, she is now seeking the same efficiencies in grouping what will now be dubbed the “Entertainment Networks” under McCumber. “Chris has a proven track record for unlocking and maximizing the potential of a media brand,” she said in her memo. “In his new role, he will be charged with streamlining processes that will maximize both creativity and efficiency at the networks.” (As part of the larger reorganization, Sprout will be added to Berwick’s lifestyles group.)

And in what is perhaps the most noteworthy move for Hollywood sellers, Hammer will centralize all scripted development under NBCU veteran Bill McGoldrick. His new title will be executive vp scripted content, and he will oversee scripted fare at USA, Syfy, E! and Bravo. Aligning the portfolio's scripted needs had long been a priority of Hammer's, as evidenced by her 2013 decision to appoint Jeff Wachtel as her chief creative officer. This move is in many ways a next phase of that plan and will allow the group to, as she puts it, “function nimbly and without redundancy.” 

What has yet to be determined is how the newly formed scripted development team will be structured internally. Hammer stressed that rather than operate as different channel teams under McGoldrick, he and Wachtel could decide to group the scripted development executives by genre or tone. "It’ll be done in a way where we can take the best advantage of people coming in through one door knowing that they can pitch a show to an executive or group of executives who then determine, ‘Ah, that sounds perfect for E!’ or ’That’s too soft for Syfy, but it belongs on USA,’" Hammer tells THR. "It’s a way to get rid of redundancies of writers, producers and agents coming in and doing the same damn pitches to three different networks here."

In announcing McGoldrick's promotion, she noted that he “has demonstrated incredible savvy and a terrific instinct for the kind of original programming that generates not only buzz, but profitability” first at USA and more recently at Syfy. Hammer also commended his ability to work well with the other network chiefs, with whom he will be consulting regularly on content, as well as with Hollywood reps. In his new role, McGoldrick will report to Wachtel, and will become part of Hammer’s leadership team.

The series of moves — which will not be accompanied by layoffs, at least in the near-term — come a year and a half after Hammer’s last major restructuring of her portfolio, which saw the birth of the Lifestyle Networks Group. The exec has been both honest and aggressive about the challenges that the cable industry faces, actively exploring new and creative ways to remain nimble and profitable in the face of rapid change. “Change is always challenging, but especially necessary in a time of disruption,” she wrote in Tuesday’s staff memo, a theme she stressed often during a company offsite strategy session a year earlier as her own networks lagged. Despite ongoing ratings challenges across the landscape, her collection of 10 networks and two cable studios managed to post profits of roughly $2.8 billion in 2015, up from $2.7 billion a year earlier and by far the biggest contributor to NBCU’s bottom line.

Read Hammer’s memo to her staff below, which also includes a streamlining of the group’s marketing division:

In this rapidly changing media environment, the biggest challenge is not only adapting to change, but staying one step ahead of it. That means continuing to re-think our playbook and developing a business model that’s as creative as it is effective, inventive as it is productive.

The disruption today is so constant and so fast-moving that it calls for a fresh approach that will transform the way we conduct our business. With that in mind, I’m writing to tell you about organizational changes that will help us to look beyond linear and uniquely position us for future success.

In a significant new role for Cable Entertainment, Dave Howe will become President, Strategy and Commercial Growth. It’s an important position whose time has come, reflecting the need for a consolidated approach to a complex media landscape. Throughout his tenure as President of Syfy, Dave has always had his eye on the big picture as he helped grow the network well beyond niche status. In his new role, he will partner with me on the kind of forward-thinking planning that will inform our future strategy. He will bridge creative and business, exploring opportunities across the portfolio, experimenting with new business models, platforms and technologies. He will focus on overall growth of the portfolio — both domestically and internationally — overseeing Business Development and Business Affairs. He will serve as the portfolio’s primary liaison with our ad sales, distribution and international partners and manage Symphony for our networks. He will also identify and manage business relationships with media partners such as BuzzFeed and Vox. Dave will divide his time between New York and LA.

A little over a year ago we formed the Lifestyle Networks group led by Frances Berwick, a re-structuring that more accurately represents how we take our networks to market. Using that same approach, we are now creating the Entertainment Networks group — consisting of USA, Syfy, Chiller and Cloo — headed by Chris McCumber, who will become President, Entertainment Networks. Chris has a proven track record for unlocking and maximizing the potential of a media brand. In his new role, he will be charged with streamlining processes that will maximize both creativity and efficiency at the networks. Among Chris’ direct reports are four executives who will assume responsibility for the Entertainment group in their respective areas: Alexandra Shapiro, EVP, Marketing; Rob Spodek, CFO; Katherine Nelson, SVP, Communications; and David Giles, SVP, Research, who was most recently at Viacom.

As we all know, strong content is at the heart of our business. Content we own or co-own is key to success and long-term profitability. Building upon the strategy that began with Jeff Wachtel being named President, Chief Content Officer and Head of Studios, we will now centralize all original scripted programming, allowing us to function nimbly and without redundancy. Bill McGoldrick will become EVP, Scripted Content for the portfolio, including USA, Syfy, E! and Bravo. Over the years at both USA and Syfy, Bill has demonstrated incredible savvy and a terrific instinct for the kind of original programming that generates not only buzz, but profitability. Bill will work closely with the network presidents and report to Jeff as he continues to bring his magic touch to scripted content across all our networks. Bill will also become a member of my leadership team.

The marketing of our original programming is also crucial to the success of our business. Our marketing teams need to be structured in a way that ensures we maintain our creative and competitive edge. So, in an effort to enhance production consistencies in marketing throughout the portfolio, Sandra Schron will become SVP, Marketing Production, Cable Entertainment. In this new role she will be charged with centralizing systems and practices, as well as streamlining operations for all marketing production across our networks. Sandra will report to the marketing heads in our Entertainment and Lifestyle groups.

Additionally, members of our marketing teams dedicated to supporting ad sales and who are currently embedded in our networks, will transition to Linda Yaccarino’s ad sales marketing team.

Finally, in a move that reflects the way it’s offered to the marketplace, Sprout will join Bravo, E!, Oxygen and Esquire Network under the Lifestyle Networks banner, reporting to Frances Berwick. Targeting moms and kids, Sprout is a natural demographic complement to these other Lifestyle networks.

Change is always challenging, but especially necessary in a time of disruption. I’m confident that this re-alignment … involving key executives who I truly believe are the best in the business … will enable us to more nimbly meet the challenges that confront us daily on just about every front.

As always, I’m grateful for your continued support. Please join me in congratulating everyone on their well-deserved new positions.

 

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