Jeff Shell Expected to Succeed Steve Burke as NBCUniversal Chief

Jeff Shell - Getty - H 2017
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Burke is stepping down during a pivotal time, just ahead of the firm’s most significant foray into streaming.

NBCUniversal is moving closer to unveiling its successor to CEO Steve Burke. 

Jeff Shell, chairman of NBCUniversal Film and Entertainment, is expected to get the top job, with an announcement to be unveiled as early as next week, a source confirms to The Hollywood Reporter. Burke is planning to step down after his contract expires in August, just after NBCUniversal's coverage of the Tokyo Summer Olympics. 

Shell, 54, currently oversees NBC Entertainment, Universal Filmed Entertainment Group, Telemundo and NBCUniversal International. In 2013, he was named chairman of Universal Filmed Entertainment and previously oversaw NBCUniversal International.

Burke, 61, took over NBCUniversal after the ousting of Jeff Zucker, who now heads CNN. The changing of the guard from Zucker to Burke took place as Comcast assumed control of NBCUniversal, which had previously been owned by General Electric.

Burke was a top executive at Walt Disney, where he ran ABC Broadcasting and helped orchestrate a turnaround at the conglomerate’s European theme parks, before he joined Comcast and quickly became a top lieutenant for CEO Brian Roberts.

Burke was partially responsible for driving up the price Disney had to pay for most of the assets of 21st Century Fox by entering the bidding ostensibly after Disney and Fox already agreed to a deal, and he is credited with helping Comcast to purchase Sky, the European satellite TV company.

A onetime candidate for replacing Michael Eisner as Disney’s CEO before Bob Iger claimed the job, Burke was charged with integrating the assets of NBC and Universal Studios with Comcast’s cable empire, and he proved adept at the job for many years.

NBCUniversal has posted steadily increasing revenue — $31.3 billion in 2016, $32.8 billion in 2017 and $35.8 billion in 2018 — though the film studio slipped from $7.6 billion in 2017 to $7.2 billion in 2018, despite titles like Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again and Fifty Shades Freed.

In 2018, Burke oversaw coverage of the Super Bowl, World Cup and the Olympic Games. NBCUniversal closed that year with 200,000 employees worldwide. Also in 2018, NBC was No. 1 in overall viewership for the first time in 16 years and NBCUniversal, the parent company, boasted “the fastest annual growth of any major media company” in the past eight years.

Beyond the Universal film studio and flagship NBC broadcast network, Burke’s oversight includes MSNBC, CNBC, USA Network, E!, Bravo, Golf Channel, Oxygen, Syfy, Bravo and NBC Sports Network, along with theme parks in California, Florida and, on a licensing basis, in Singapore.

But some say NBCUniversal was too slow to react to the streaming wars once Netflix introduced the concept and, in doing so, set in motion “cord-cutting,” whereby millions of consumers ditched cable television — considered Comcast’s bread and butter at the time — and Burke was catching some the blame.

Burke finally announced in January of this year that NBCUniversal would launch a streamer in 2020 dubbed Peacock. Competitors — most notably Disney, Apple, HBO and CBS — were a bit quicker to claim stakes in the streaming industry.