Will Run Digital Unit; Jeff Zucker Moved Up to CEO

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NEW YORK ( -- At a time when General Electric Co. is trying to turn around a troubled NBC, Beth Comstock, a rising star at GE, has been tapped for an operational role to lead the high-potential digital media group.
Beth Comstock will lead NBC Univeral digital media.

Ms. Comstock, as president of NBC Universal digital media and market development, will oversee digital media, an area previously helmed by Deborah Reif (who is returning to GE in a yet-to-be-announced capacity) as well as strategic marketing, TV research, TV advertising and promotion and communications.

Ms. Comstock’s new role was announced as part of a broad NBC Universal Television Group re-organization. In a more surprising move of the reorganization, the division’s top two TV executives, NBC Universal Television Group President Jeff Zucker and Randy Falco, group president of the NBC Television Network, are taking on larger roles as CEO and chief operating officer, respectively, of the NBC Universal Television Group.

Zucker's focus
Management’s intention is for the reorganization to integrate the content-creation and distribution sides of the business -- the broadcast and cable networks, TV studio, station group and distribution business. Mr. Zucker’s primary focus will be on content creation, and Mr. Falco will report into Mr. Zucker, who, along with Ms. Comstock, will report to Bob Wright, chairman of NBC Universal.

Reporting into Ms. Comstock will be research chief Alan Wurtzel, NBC Agency head John Miller, corporate communications' Anna Perez and a yet-to-be-named head of strategic marketing.

For Ms. Comstock, the job is a return of sorts, as she worked her way up to the top communications post at NBC before becoming the chief marketing officer at GE, where she was credited with turning the company’s marketing operation into a revenue-generating unit. She is considered one of GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt’s stars, and many insiders believe she has the potential to run a GE division herself someday.

In an internal communication, Mr. Immelt said Ms. Comstock “helped invigorate our marketing and sales efforts [and] transformed our brand.” The digital media group has “tremendous opportunity for growth,” he said, and added that a new CMO for GE will be named shortly.

Challenging period
NBC Universal Television Group is in the middle of its most challenging period, trying to turn around a network that fell from first place to fourth place, hemorrhaged $1 billion during its upfront sales and hasn’t, season-to-date, shown a measurable improvement over the same period last year.

But in recent months, the company has begun to see digital media as an aggressive growth area, signing a distribution deal with Apple’s iTunes and a video-on-demand deal with DirecTV.

As far as the other organizational tweaks, NBC Universal executives sounded a bit frustrated at times articulating what exactly would change within the TV group during a conference call with reporters. Mr. Zucker and Mr. Falco each said they expected their day-to-day responsibilities to change very little.

Sports change
One change is that sports and Olympics Chairman Dick Ebersol will now report to Mr. Zucker. “Our biggest programming is Olympics, and the next biggest is the NFL,” Mr. Wright said. “The NFL is prime-time programming now.”

Again, Mr. Wright defended his top TV executives and said he hoped they would remain with the company for “a long time to come.”

When asked whether this re-structuring sets Mr. Zucker up to succeed him, Mr. Wright responded: “Absolutely. All he has to do is survive 2006 and then ‘07 and so forth. ... I think what’s a fair way to read into this is Jeff has a lot of responsibility here. I hope they’re with us and in leadership positions for a long time to come.”

In regard to the timing, the executives said they wanted to make the changes before May, when they begin to unveil their fall schedules.

“We’re struggling to rebuild prime time and we’re trying to take advantage of every part of our organization to ease the effort and accelerate it,” Mr. Wright said. “The timing is better now than April or May.”

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