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Ron Meyer, Hollywood’s longest-running studio chief, has signed a new contract that will see him remain atop Universal Studios as president and chief operating officer through 2015.
He will continue to report to NBC Universal CEO Steve Burke.
Meyer, who has headed Universal since 1995, had been working under a contract that was due to expire at the end of 2012. The three-year contract extension amounts to a vote of confidence from Universal’s new owner Comcast, which took over NBC Universal in January.
As part of the Comcast takeover, Burke, who replaced Jeff Zucker, instituted sweeping changes among the executive line-up on the NBC side but did not immediately focus on the motion picture studio.
Although there were had been earlier reports that Meyer and Comcast could not agree on the length of any contract extension, sources within the studio characterized the talks as fairly straightforward. With Meyer expressing an interest in staying on and Comcast interested in keeping him, the bulk of the negotiations took place over the past week and were rapped up by Friday evening.
Meyer, 66. one of the founders of Creative Artists Agency, has charted Universal’s course for 16 years for a string of successive owners that includes Seagram, Vivendi and General Electric before Comcast entered the picture. In his post, he oversees Universal Pictures, studio operations and Universal’s theme parks.
Comcast has already endorsed his operation of the theme parks by agreeing to buy the 50 percent stake in two of Universal’s parks in Orlando, Fla. from the private equity firm Blackstone Group for about $1 billion. As managing partner, Universal already called the shots at the parks, but without a partner, the company has more freedom to operate without having to explain every move.
The new 3D King Kong attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood boosted attendance there last year, and a new Transformers attraction is scheduled to open at at the park next year.
Comcast, which has had its hands full fixing problems at NBC, hasn’t signaled any wholesale changes it wants made in the company’s movie operations. And, reacting to poor box-office performances over the past few years, Meyer had already moved to shake up the studio hierarchy.
In 2009, he replaced Universal Pictures heads Marc Shmuger and David Linde with Adam Fogelson and Donna Langley, who were promoted to chairman and co-chairman respectively. Early last month, the studio replaced production president Debbie Liebling with two more execs, Peter Cramer and Jeffrey Kirschenbaum, who were promoted from within.
At about the same time, the studio’s long dry spell at the box office finally broke, thanks to back-to-back hits in Fast Five, which has grossed nearly $600 million worldwide, and Bridesmaids, which has collected $168 million worldwide. Additionally, Universal has established a solid foothold in the animation arena through Illumination Entertainment, which has produced hits Despicable Me and Hop.
As it searches for future hits, Universal’s upcoming schedule include Larry Crowne, the Julia Roberts–Tom Hanks romantic comedy opening Friday, the sci-fi Western Cowboys & Aliens, the Ben Stiller–Eddie Murphy comedy Tower Heist and Battleship, a big-budget action movie based on the Hasbro game that is set for May, 2012.
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