NBCU Merges International, Domestic Teams as Kevin MacLellan Exits

Bonnie Hammer_Kevin MacLellan_Split - Publicity - H 2019
Mary Rozzi/NBCUniversal; Charlie Gray/NBC

NBCUniversal is merging its international and domestic operations.

Kevin MacLellan, chairman of NBCU's global distribution and international operations, is exiting the company after a nearly two-decade run. The executive will work with NBCU film and entertainment chairman Jeff Shell and Cesar Conde, chairman of NBCU's international group and Telemundo, on a transition until his departure.

With MacLellan's exit, Shell has opted to realign NBCU's international and domestic operations to better position the company for what is rapidly becoming a global landscape as multiple conglomerates — including Comcast — enter the streaming arena. The realignment was announced Wednesday via an internal memo from Shell.

As part of the restructuring, former Peacock chairman Bonnie Hammer — weeks after she moved to oversee NBCU's studio operations — is adding international to her expanding purview. Hammer will take on oversight of NBCU's International Studios. That division has been headed by Jeff Wachtel since his move to London in late 2017. (Wachtel previously reported to MacLellan.)

Wachtel, the former chief content officer at NBCU, will now report to NBCU Content Studios chairman Hammer and vice chair George Cheeks. Wachtel previously reported directly to Hammer before moving to London in 2017 to head up the international studio. The shuffle gives Hammer and Cheeks oversight of international production companies including Carnival, Working Title, Heyday, Monkey and Matchbox. NBCU's international formats group will now report to Meredith Ahr, NBC's president of alternative and reality group.

"Change is never easy, but I’m confident that we have never been better positioned for global growth," Shell said in his internal memo. "The combination of our outstanding international team, with the strength and reach of our new sister company Sky, sets us up for future success in a very competitive marketplace."

The International Networks group will see Ken Bettsteller upped to president of the Global Networks Group, overseeing non-Sky Network operations across EMEA, APAC and Latin America, adding Lee Raftery and Justin Che as his regional direct reports. Bettsteller will report to Conde. DreamWorks Animation Networks, overseen by Jennifer Lawlor, will report to Raftery.

Elsewhere, Duccio Donati, executive vp of NBCU's Lifestyle & Kids Networks, will now report to Frances Berwick, president of the Lifestyle Networks group. (Donati previously reported to MacLellan.)

Other units, including the Global Distribution and Business Development EMEA, also will now have new leadership after previously reporting to MacLellan, who, sources say, opted to leave instead of accepting what sources described a promotion to what would have been a newly created role of chairman of global distribution and strategic initiatives.

The restructuring is the latest consolidation effort at NBCUniversal and arrives as much of the TV industry is beginning to do the same as conglomerates shuffle their executive decks to better position themselves for the streaming future.

Hammer on Oct. 7 moved from overseeing NBCUniversal's forthcoming streaming service, Peacock, to a new role charged with oversight of the portfolio's combined studio efforts (Universal TV and Universal Content Productions), as those operations were centralized. In a larger sense, merging Universal TV and UCP makes sense. Both studios are focused on selling to outside suppliers as well as platforms beyond NBC. UCP — which recently changed its name from Universal Cable Productions to better reflect its purpose — continues to remain a supplier to cable networks Syfy and USA as well as Netflix, among others. Universal TV has shows across broadcast as well as cable and streaming. Hammer now oversees all of NBCU's domestic and international studios.

Wachtel previously reported to Hammer when she served as NBCU Cable Entertainment and Cable Studios chairman. During his time as content chief at NBCU, Wachtel had been responsible for content development and production at brands including Bravo, Oxygen, Syfy, USA Network and E, while also serving as president of UCP and unscripted counterpart Wilshire Studios. Dawn Olmstead now oversees UCP, while Bill McGoldrick oversees content across Peacock and NBCU's cable portfolio. 

For his part, MacLellan worked closely with Shell for 14 years and, with his team, managed more than 2,600 employees across 26 countries. He was a key player in NBCU's Sky acquisition and helped produce global hits including Downton Abbey, Hanna and The Capture.

Shell's memo to staff is below.

Dear colleagues,

I am disappointed to share the news that Kevin MacLellan has made the difficult decision to leave the company and is ready to move on to his next challenge. Kevin and I have worked closely together for over 14 years, during which time he has always been a trusted friend and advisor.  He and his team have managed over 2,600 employees across 36 different countries, who have all been instrumental in building our domestic and international businesses, driving double-digit growth annually. Kevin’s many accomplishments include advising on the Sky acquisition, securing numerous volume licensing and production deals and launching hayu in 14 different countries. During his tenure, he turned our International Studios business into a world-class home to some of the most preeminent content creators who produced global hits such as Downton Abbey, Hanna and The Capture. We are sorry to see him go, but look forward to seeing what his next chapter will be.

Kevin has agreed to work with me and Cesar Conde to ensure a smooth transition, so he will be remaining with us until that process is complete. 

In light of Kevin’s departure, we have reassessed our international organizational structure. With the rapidly evolving global media landscape, we have decided to more closely align our U.S. and international operations. This will perfectly position us for future growth, as we take advantage of our increased international footprint and the growing number of platforms for our content.

Following are details on the new structure of our international group:

 International Networks 

  • Ken Bettsteller will become President, Global Networks, overseeing all non-Sky Network operations across EMEA, APAC and LatAm, adding Lee Raftery and Justin Che as his regional direct reports.  Ken will report directly to Cesar Conde, Chairman, NBCUniversal International Group and Telemundo Enterprises.DreamWorks Animation Networks, headed by Jennifer Lawlor, will report to Lee.
  • Duccio Donati, EVP, Lifestyle & Kids Networks, will now report to Frances Berwick, President of the NBCUniversal Lifestyle Networks. Duccio will continue to oversee E! Entertainment Television internationally and will take on oversight of hayu led by Hendrik McDermott.

International Production

  • International Studios, headed by Jeff Wachtel, will now report to Bonnie Hammer, Chairman, NBCUniversal Content Studios and George Cheeks, Vice Chairman, NBCUniversal Content Studios.
  • International Formats group will now report to Meredith Ahr, President, Alternative and Reality Group, NBC Entertainment.

International Leadership and Corporate functions

  • Global Distribution, led by Belinda Menendez, will now report jointly to George Cheeks and Pete Levinsohn, President and Chief Distribution Officer for Universal Filmed Entertainment Group.  
  • Business Development in EMEA will move under Sky, with Ben Braun, SVP, Strategy & Business Development, coordinating Business Development in LatAm and APAC in partnership with Cesar and Justin Che.
  • The leaders of each of the International functions including Finance, Human Resources, Legal, Government Affairs, Corporate Communications, International Media Operations, Facilities, Real Estate and Security will help with the transition and report into the U.S. functional heads of each group. David Gibbons, SVP, International Operations & Technology, will leave his role in 2020 following completion of key integration projects. 

Change is never easy, but I’m confident that we have never been better positioned for global growth. The combination of our outstanding international team, with the strength and reach of our new sister company Sky, sets us up for future success in a very competitive marketplace. Thank you for your continued contribution to our business.

Jeff Shell