I understand the excitement over finding out who’s in, who’s out at the new NBCU following the reorg unveiled on Nov. 18. But the most interesting reveal to me is the playbook Steve Burke just shared with the industry for how to create a content business of the future. By the looks of that structure — all jokes about numerous chairmanships aside — he intends to run the new company as an earnings-per-share enterprise, driving profits, with a team of results-oriented execs more accountable for their roles in all of it than they’ve ever been at NBCU.
Players are important, of course. Burke needs the absolute top talent he can get — and he clearly created opportunities to nab some of the best execs around, whether they hail from NBCU, Comcast or another company. But as a number of folks have put it to me, these are just the starters scheduled to be on the field when the deal goes through. There are bound to be flame outs once the team begins running plays — maybe even before game time as they consider what’s ahead — and Burke has built in a coterie of long-trusted, cross-trained executives on the roster who can step in from another area to take up various other posts as needed (Read: Matt Bond, Ted Harbert, Jeff Shell, Page Thompson).
The powerful thing Burke has done is to create a structure of clarity, where businesses (and those running them) are accountable for performance. The de-centralized ad sales structure is the biggest move in this regard. The new structure not only separates broadcast and cable, Bonnie Hammer and Lauren Zalaznick have accountability for ad sales under the businesses they oversee. Marianne Gambelli has specific accountability for NBC network ad sales, reporting up to Harbert. But the other groupings, too, make it plain that Burke is setting NBCU up as a bunch of distinct businesses — the film group, sports, distribution. They’ll be charged with working together for sure, but what’s coming in and going out from where will have never been clearer.
NBC’s performance in particular, of course, will be far less cloudy to assess, separated from the cushion of how well the cable networks are doing in the entertainment group. And there are good reasons to expect it will actually be good news that will be that much easier to track. To be sure, Burke’s hire of Bob Greenblatt as Chairman of NBC Entertainment, could not have gotten a more universal thumbs up across the board — from inside NBCU, across the creative community to affiliates, competitors to, well, everyone. While Greenblatt certainly has a challenge ahead of him translating his immense popularity to profit, the signs point to him being the guy.
The network is also now positioned better than ever to bring in a stronger take in retrans cash to finance its programming efforts, a point that has been widely examined for all the obvious competition and fairness reasons. Distribution deals with MVPDs should be expected to continue to be done as a group — the NBC’s O&Os retrans deals along with what is now an even better leveraged, bigger group of cable networks and now regional sports nets. Given that, the bosses will surely be looking for an even bigger haul from longtime head of NBCU Networks Distribution Bridget Baker, who will report into Bond.
Let the game begin.
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