NBCU Lite

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As expected, it didn’t take long for the other shoe to drop at NBC Universal. A week after succeeding Bob Wright as CEO, Jeff Zucker tapped a trio of key lieutenants last Thursday and offered the first glimpse of what NBCU 2.0 looks like at the executive level. In a word: lean.

Like the rollout of the company’s branded job cuts last fall, the elevation of Beth Comstock, Marc Graboff and Jeff Gaspin is being sold as a feat of corporate streamlining.

But while the trio will annex turf that was abandoned by Randy Falco and David Zaslav when they departed (for AOL and Discovery Communications, respectively), other senior managers at NBCU will watch their stock drop. After all, one man’s streamlining is another’s downsizing.

Comstock made out particularly well as president of NBCU Integrated Media. The newly created position adds the all-important sales department to a portfolio that includes marketing and research. Ad-sales chief Michael Pilot, an alum of General Electric with no previous network experience, will report to her.

Giving Comstock such a powerful post signals a fundamental change in how the network handles ad sales, an essential part of the business—and among the most hidebound by a boys’-club tradition. But Comstock, who started at NBC in public relations and later was chief marketing officer at corporate parent GE before returning to NBCU in 2005, tells me she has a mandate to “take the inefficiencies out of the market” and streamline sales across NBCU’s networks and online properties.

“We know how to integrate marketing and ad sales and make it work,” she says, adding that the company is already looking at the Google playbook.

Meanwhile, Graboff, as president of NBCU TV, West Coast, will oversee operations previously divided between Zucker and Falco. That means NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly and NBCU Studio President Angela Bromstad will report to him.

Like Comstock and Graboff, Gaspin will see his fiefdom grow as president of Cable and Digital Content. “I never had enough to do before,” he jokes.

Gaspin will continue to oversee USA Networks, Sci Fi and Bravo, while taking on the whole distribution strategy for all of NBCU’s cable properties (except CNBC and MSNBC). With successful programmers USA/Sci Fi chief Bonnie Hammer and Bravo’s Lauren Zalaznick continuing to report to him, he’ll spend more time on strategic planning.

Naturally, Gaspin says the departures of Falco and Zaslav gave Zucker the opportunity “to streamline operations” and make a huge enterprise “more nimble.”

In part, he explains, that will translate into a much more integrated, cross-platform approach to running NBCU’s business. A big believer in running full-length shows online as well as on linear channels—not to mention closing the windows for series to go to DVD—Gaspin says the new structure can integrate this strategy more quickly and maximize impact on the bottom line.

Clearly, that has been the idea for a while. When NBCU announced in October that it was slashing its workforce by 700 people to wring $750 million out of its budget, it wasn’t just about dumping the rank and file. It was about thinning top management, with an eye toward GE and beyond, to Wall Street.

These are chaotic times at NBCU. When some big execs get promoted and others don’t, egos are bruised. No doubt, some of those who were passed over could have a hard time adjusting to the streamlined world of NBCU 2.0.

E-mail comments to bcrobins@reedbusiness.com

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