Mr. Turner is the third major executive to leave the company in a month, following Randy Falco, who defected to become CEO of Time Warner-owned AOL, and David Zaslav, considered a fast-rising star at NBC Universal who instead left to become CEO at Discovery Networks.
GE exec to fill post?
NBC Universal confirmed Mr. Turner's departure but has not made any announcements about who might replace him. One likely possibility is that parent General Electric Co. would bring in an executive, probably from the finance department, to lead the charge. Calls to Mr. Turner's office were not returned.
Two industry executives close to the situation said that executive was Michael Pilot, president of GE Commercial Finance, U.S. Equipment Financing, a $27 billion division within General Electric. Mr. Pilot doesn't appear to have media sales experience but he does have other sales experience. In 2003, he was named VP-global sales for GE Industrial Systems, after previously serving as VP-American sales for GE Global eXcahnge Service. A call to Mr. Pilot's office was unreturned. A GE spokeswoman would neither confirm or deny if Mr. Pilot was taking Mr. Turner's place.
Media buyers say Mr. Turner wasn't a very visible executive in the media. "Keith stays, Keith leaves. Won't make a difference," said one buyer who didn't wish to be named. "They have plenty of qualified people in that company under Keith."
Indeed, last month after Mr. Falco's departure, one media buyer told Advertising Age that part of NBC's problem was too many cooks. "I heard there's a four-headed monster with [TV Group CEO] Jeff Zucker, [NBC Universal President-Digital Sales] Beth Comstock, Randy Falco and Keith Turner. Now I guess it's a three-headed monster." It appears the monster only has two heads left.
Close ties to NFL
It's unclear where Mr. Turner could land. There are no obvious openings at any major network or cable group. However, Mr. Turner does have close ties with the National Football League, which owns the fledgling NFL Network and had made the decision in October to bring NFL.com back in-house (for the past five years CBS Sportsline has been under contract to run the site). Calls to the NFL were not returned at press time.
And while it's been rumored since Mr. Falco's departure two weeks ago that Mr. Turner might end up at AOL, observers point out he lacks strong new-media sales experience.
The most likely scenario being floated is that he could take a management role at Univision, whose sale is expected to go through in early 2007; most watchers of that deal expect a senior-management shakeup. At NBC Universal, Mr. Turner was responsible for all of NBC Universal's broadcast and cable TV properties, including Telemundo. Yesterday, Variety reported that James McNamara, who runs film production company Panamax in Miami, was up for the CEO job. Mr. Turner is believed to be one of the candidates for that post as well.
Mr. McNamara, who was president-CEO of Telemundo for six years until he stepped down in April 2005, is one of the best-known executives in the Hispanic media market. An American who grew up in Panama, he speaks fluent Spanish. Since leaving Telemundo, he has been pursuing opportunities on the production side.
Haim Saban, chairman-CEO of Saban Capital Group, a Los Angeles-based private investment firm, is leading the consortium that is buying Univision. The other members are Providence Equity Partners, Madison Dearborn Partners, Texas Pacific Group and Thomas H. Lee Partners. Univision shareholders approved the sale in September 2006. Mr. Saban did not immediately return calls to his L.A. office.
Tough times for NBC sales force
Mr. Turner's leaving comes at a difficult time for the GE-owned division. NBC Universal's sales resources were already stretched thing, mostly due to the struggles the NBC network has had ratings-wise -- struggles that had reportedly trickled over to the cable side as well, over which Mr. Turner also presided. Mr. Turner's departure also comes as NBC is looking to restructure its sales team, according to insiders who talked to Ad Age at the time of Mr. Falco's departure.
The new generation of sales leaders who could be tapped to move up include Mr. Turner's deputy, Marianne Gambelli, exec VP, NBC Universal sales and marketing; Jeff Gaspin, president, NBC Universal cable entertainment, digital content and cross-network strategy; Bonnie Hammer, USA Network and Sci-Fi Channel; Lauren Zalaznick, president, Bravo; and Bridget Baker, exec VP, NBC Universal Cable.
Contributing: Laurel Wentz