Com­cast No. 2 is next chief of NBC Uni­ver­sal

Los Angeles Times - - Monday Business - Meg James meg.james@latimes.com

Com­cast Corp.’s sec­ondin-com­mand, Steve Burke, will be­come chief ex­ec­u­tive of NBC Uni­ver­sal when the merger of the en­ter­tain­ment as­sets of Com­cast and Gen­eral Elec­tric Co. is com­plete, the two com­pa­nies an­nounced Sun­day.

Burke, 52, will suc­ceed Jeff Zucker, 45, who said Fri­day that he would step down when Philadel­phia-based Com­cast as­sumes con­trol of NBC Uni­ver­sal, ex­pected to hap­pen late this year or early 2011. The com­pa­nies are await­ing the fed­eral govern­ment’s ap­proval of their $30-bil­lion trans­ac­tion.

The nam­ing of Burke as CEO was ex­pected. Zucker — who since 2007 has been run­ning the sprawl­ing me­dia em­pire — will stay on for sev­eral months.

Burke, a long­time Walt Dis­ney Co. ex­ec­u­tive who has been a se­nior ex­ec­u­tive at Com­cast since 1998, will face sub­stan­tial chal­lenges. He must nav­i­gate a sud­denly bulked-up me­dia com­pany through a dig­i­tal revo­lu­tion, which is threat­en­ing to un­der­mine the long-es­tab­lished eco­nom­ics of the me­dia busi­ness. Burke will have to de­ter­mine whether Uni­ver­sal movies should be re­leased ear­lier on DVD, video on de­mand and on­line ser­vices, which could hurt movie theater own­ers. He also must de­cide whether NBC TV shows should be avail­able for free on the web­site Hulu, which is partly owned by NBC Uni­ver­sal.

But first he must as­sem­ble his own team with­out alien­at­ing key NBC lieu­tenants or his fu­ture part­ners within GE dur­ing the tran­si­tion. Al­though Com­cast is al­lowed to plan for the in­te­gra­tion of the two com­pa­nies, fed­eral rules pro­hibit Com­cast ex­ec­u­tives from of­fi­cially call­ing the shots un­til they con­trol the ven­ture.

Dur­ing the last nine months, Burke has been meet­ing with se­nior ex­ec­u­tives and work­ing to cre­ate a more stream­lined man­age­ment struc­ture for NBC Uni­ver­sal — an en­deavor that has put sev­eral Com­cast and NBC ex­ec­u­tives in com­pe­ti­tion for the same jobs. Burke has said that he will have his team as­sem­bled and ready to go as soon as the deal closes.

Burke prides him­self on be­ing a straight shooter who dis­likes the drama of of­fice pol­i­tics or un­der­lings who seek the me­dia spot­light. He will have to man­age a dif­fer­ent cul­ture at NBC Uni­ver­sal: It has long op­er­ated in the spot­light and has a string of able ex­ec­u­tives, many with big egos.

Burke was not avail­able to be in­ter­viewed Sun­day, a Com­cast spokes­woman said. Af­ter the merger, he will con­tinue as chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of Com­cast, the nation’s largest cable provider.

Burke comes from a prom­i­nent busi­ness fam­ily. His fa­ther, Dan Burke, was one of the two ar­chi­tects of the Cap­i­tal Cities tele­vi­sion sta­tion group that gob­bled up ABC and later sold the com­pany to Dis­ney. His un­cle, James Burke, was chair­man of John­son & John­son dur­ing the 1982 Tylenol scare and the cam­paign to re­gain the pub­lic’s con­fi­dence in the pain medicine.

Burke earned an MBA from the Har­vard Busi­ness School in the same class as GE Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Jef­frey Im­melt.

STEVE BURKE: Com­cast’s chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer gets an­other ti­tle.

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