Why did Jeff Zucker announce his pending exit as CEO of NBC Universal (NYSE: GE) months before the merger with Comcast (NSDQ: CMCSA) is likely to close? “Once you have something like that done in a world like we live in today — a Twitter world, an online world, a blogosphere world — once you have that done, you might as well be honest with people,” Zucker told paidContent. “There was no reason to hold it back.”
The well-coordinated announcement (news on CNBC, memo to staff, interview with the New York Times) came this morning just two weeks after he was told by Comcast COO Steve Burke that there would be no job for him and less than 24 hours after his exit package was finalized with GE.
Others were certain that the often-controversial top exec would be out long before Zucker and Comcast admitted it. Zucker said he knew from day one that “99.1 percent of the time” people in his position don’t survive a merger. “From my perspective, I was an employee, under contract, following Comcast’s lead, which was exactly what I did.” Comcast’s Burke repeatedly said publicly that Zucker would be CEO. But over the summer it became increasingly clear that any job he would have at Comcast wouldn’t be close to the kind of power he wielded with GE as sole owner. “I didn’t want to be a guest in my own house. I’ve been here for 24-and-a-half years,” Zucker said. “Going forward that was going to be very different.”
The possibility he would stay gave Zucker the chance to avoid certain lame-duck status during what he calls “a very big year” for NBCU: the Vancouver Olympics’ the opening of the Harry Potter Wizarding World at Universal; the release of animated film Despicable Me; and getting NBC Entertainment back on the right foot. The new season premiered this week.
Succession: Now, whatever the title, Burke will be running it all without any hint of Zucker as a filter. How will he staff the merged company? He has a number of senior Comcast execs to draw on — Jeff Shell, Ted Harbert, Amy Banse, among them — and a full house of NBCU execs. With only a couple of notable exceptions (Ron Meyer, Dick Ebersol), everyone from NBC Universal is someone Zucker put into place: Bonnie Hammer, Lauren Zalaznick, Jeff Gaspin and more. Over the last few weeks, the reports about who will do what where — and who will be left out — have grown more incessant. What does Zucker expect? “Whatever conjecture we