Mr. Zucker has been with the company since 1986, the year Mr. Wright first came to his position as CEO of NBC. Over the last five years, Mr. Zucker has overseen the network through its biggest changes in prime time (the dissolution of "Must-See TV" after losing "Friends" in 2004), cable (channels such as USA, Bravo and Sci Fi have become strong brands with big ratings) and online (NBC acquired iVillage last March to broaden its appeal to women).
Testing key executives
Mr. Immelt said he had been testing the adaptability of several key NBC executives in recent years by assigning them extra responsibilities, with Mr. Zucker being the most successful early example of meeting those challenges. "You don't give people jobs like this for what they know today but how fast they can learn and how fast they can change," he said.
Since Mr. Zucker retains his title of president of NBC Universal, he will have no direct replacement. However, he told reporters that some organizational announcements will be made shortly to strengthen the roles of team leaders. "Obviously I have a great team in place in every one of our divisions," Mr. Zucker said. "I look to them to lead our respective divisions and at the same time will be where I can be of help and assistance and push where we need to push."
The promotion comes after a recent executive overhaul at NBC that saw the departure of Keith Turner, president-sales; Randy Falco, chief operating officer for NBC Television Group, who left to become CEO of Time Warner's AOL; and digital initiatives head David Zaslav, who is now CEO at Discovery Networks and announced a major shift of his own yesterday.
A 'leaner' organization
"The structure we had in the past didn't really make sense," Mr. Immelt said. "When you look at NBC Universal today I really like the team of people we have in each area. Now that Jeff is the lead guy there's probably a leaner and I would say more direct ways to run the organization that Jeff is going to have to put in place."
Among the other executives asked to step up in recent years and may be asked to do so by Mr. Zucker are Marianne Gambelli, exec VP, NBC Universal sales and marketing; Jeff Gapsin, 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.
Mr. Zucker said financial reorganization will be key in the continued growth of NBC, particularly in its film and TV divisions.
"We are clearly looking into operations and finding ways to be more efficient financially and we're getting very good at it," he said.
The challenges posed by YouTube will continue to be faced by Mr. Zucker, who cited his predecessor as a worldwide leader against online piracy. "No one has been a better spokesman for this issue in the world. I would hope Bob would continue to lead that fight, not just in the interest of NBC Universal but of all media companies, and frankly, the entire country that suffers economically when it's not dealt with."