Bonnie Hammer Upped to Vice Chairman of NBCUniversal; Pearlena Igbokwe to Chairman of NBCUniversal Content Studios

Comcast Corp. continues to restructure senior management in the aftermath of several abrupt senior executive departures at NBCUniversal.

The media giant Sept. 9 announced that 30-year veteran Bonnie Hammer has been tapped to take former NBCUniversal vice chairman Ron Meyer’s position, while Pearlena Igbokwe replaces Hammer in the chairman position of the NBCUniversal Content Group, which includes Universal Television, Universal Content Productions and NBCUniversal International Studios. Both positions report to NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell.

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Meyer, 75, exited the studio last month after 25 years following disclosure of a personal affair with a young actress. His ouster followed the dismissal of NBC Entertainment chairman Paul Telegdy, who was shown the door following allegations of promoting a hostile work environment.

“This is an exciting time for our business, with demand for entertainment content at an all-time high and more distribution platforms available than ever before,” Shell said in a statement regarding Igbokwe, Hammer promotions. “Our television studios are key growth engines for the company, and Pearlena is ideally suited to lead them. She has extraordinary taste and is well-respected within NBCU, and throughout the global creative community.”

Shell lauded Hammer’s “deep industry experience” and “impeccable creative instincts” as key to her promotion. “I am extremely pleased to be gaining Bonnie as a trusted adviser,” Shell said. “Her 25-plus years of prosocial advocacy will be immensely valuable to me and our company.”

NBCUniversal CEO: PVOD Addresses ‘Very Large’ Non-Theatrical Audience

Universal Pictures’ landmark distribution agreement with the nation’s largest exhibitor AMC Theatres, enabling it to sell and rent digital access to new-release movies in the home entertainment market just 17 days after their box office, debut taps into a largely unserved consumer, according to NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell.

Speaking July 30 on the Comcast fiscal call, Shell thanked AMC CEO Adam Aron for “his vision” in working together — rather than against — Universal to create new business model and revenue opportunities for both companies.

“We’ve always believed PVOD can be a complement rather than a replacement for a robust theatrical release,” Shell said, adding that the studio has always believed there’s a growing segment of the population that does not go to the movie theater.

“Over the last couple of years, it’s become more increasingly difficult to generate the same returns over the first couple of windows,” he said. “We believe the new model in the U.S. will restore some of those economics, probably not make more movies, but keep production levels the same as in the past.”

Shell said the advantage to the shortened 17-day box office is that PVOD and transactional VOD marketing can be done in the same window.

“It allows us to tap into that incremental [transactional VOD] revenue stream, share it with AMC and other exhibitors, and at the same time preserve that theatrical window that is so critical to the film business,” he said.

AMC Theatres CEO Doubles Down Banning Universal Movies

AMC Entertainment CEO Adam Aron remains adamant the nation’s largest theatrical chain will not screen Universal Pictures movies when it re-opens — following the coronavirus pandemic shutdown — in select locations on July 15.

The chain and studio have been embroiled in a dispute after NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell said Universal theatrical releases going forward would also entertain direct-to-consumer distribution on launch day — thus upending the traditional exclusive 90-day theatrical window. That move came after scuttled theatrical release Trolls World Tour generated $100 million from premium VOD in the home in just three weeks.

In an June 18 interview with CNN Business, Aron was asked if pending Universal sequels such as Fast & Furious 9, Jurassic World: Dominion and Minions: The Rise of Gru would be banned from AMC.

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“Yes, assuming we can’t have discussions with Universal that solve our concerns,” Aron said. “Remember, AMC has been showing Universal movies happily and profitably for decades. We didn’t change the status quo, and we didn’t actually have any protest about Trolls at all. We understood that our theaters were shut, that they have a business to run, and that they felt they needed to take Trolls to the home rather than waiting.”

Aron says his concern revolves around Universal’s decision to ignore the theatrical window and screen movies in theaters and via home entertainment concurrently.

“If they take movies to the home and theaters at the same time, they’re the ones who are changing the status quo and they would make it unprofitable for us to play Universal movies in our theaters,” Aron said.

The executive said his April letter to Universal Pictures  Chairwoman Donna Langley underscored the fact the studio — not AMC — had broken the business relationship between the two companies, and would force the exhibitor to “come up” with a new business relationship.

“We’re in active dialog with Universal now,” Aron said. “We’ll see where that leads, but it is our current plan not to show Universal movies if we can’t do so profitably.”

Langley in April said the studio “absolutely believe[s]” in the theatrical “experience” and made no statement to the contrary.

“As we stated earlier, going forward, we expect to release future films directly to theaters, as well as on PVOD when that distribution outlet makes sense,” she said. “We look forward to having additional private conversations with our exhibition partners, but are disappointed by this seemingly coordinated attempt from AMC and [National Association of Theatre Owners] to confuse our position and our actions.”

NBCUniversal’s Jeff Shell: ‘Not Realistic’ to Ignore PVOD

After setting off an industry firestorm saying Universal Pictures would pursue a movie-release strategy combining theatrical and premium video-on-demand, NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell doubled down on his previous comments to The Wall Street Journal after Universal Pictures animated feature film, Trolls World Tour, generated $100 million in PVOD sales.

Speaking April 29 on the Comcast fiscal call, Shell said PVOD would continue as a “complementary offer” to consumers when theaters re-open to the public — and consumers attend.

He said the Trolls had been primed and marketed for a March 20 theatrical bow, and when the coronavirus shut down theaters, going direct-to-consumer on April 10 with a “desperately” needed children’s title during the pandemic was the only option.

“The majority of our movies, whether we like it or not, are being consumed at home,” Shell said. “It’s not realistic to assume that we’re not going to change, that this part of the business isn’t going to change like all parts of the business are going to change.”

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The executive said it remains to be seen what the distribution model will look like post-COVID-19. While he expects a gradual return to the cineplex, which he said Universal would be part of, he also expects PVOD to be a part of the business model.

“[PVOD is] not a replacement,” Shell said. “We’re just going to have to see how long [a return to theatrical] takes and where it takes us.”

AMC Theatres, trade group National Association of Theatre Owners and Regal Cinemas have blasted Universal for pledging to bypass the traditional 90-day theatrical window. Both exhibitors have said they would not distribute any Universal — or other studio — title earmarked for simultaneous in-home digital release.

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With the exception of Georgia and Texas, movie theaters in most states remain shuttered due to the coronavirus. The industry and studios are projected to lose billions in box office revenue to the shutdowns.

Comcast CFO Michael Cavanagh said future PVOD releases would be determined on a “title-by-title” basis.

AMC Theatres Threatens to Drop Distribution of Universal Pictures Movies; Studio Responds

The world’s largest movie theater chain is fighting back against NBCUniversal’s plans to release at least some movies simultaneously to theaters and to homes.

On the heels of Universal Pictures’ animated feature film Trolls World Tour generating upwards of $100 million from premium video-on-demand and other digital channels in less than three weeks of release, NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell April 28 told The Wall Street Journal the studio would pursue a simultaneous theatrical/home entertainment release strategy going forward.

“The results for Trolls World Tour exceeded our expectations and demonstrated the viability of PVOD,” Shell said. “As soon as theaters reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats.”

AMC Theatres CEO Adam Aron promptly fired off a letter to the studio’s chairwoman, Donna Langley, saying it would no longer screen Universal movies if it turns a cold shoulder to the traditional 90-day theatrical window.

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“This radical change by Universal to the business model that currently exists between our two companies represents nothing but downside for us and is categorically unacceptable to AMC Entertainment,” Aron wrote in the letter. “Going forward, AMC will not license any Universal movies in any of our 1,000 theaters globally on these terms.”

AMC’s strategy mirrors exhibitor sentiment that has shunned Netflix original movies since the subscription streaming video behemoth releases its movies concurrently with any theatrical distribution.

Aron, along with 600 AMC executives, has been furloughed as the chain saw its business literally shuttered over night to help curb spread of the coronavirus. He said Shell’s comments suggest Universal is moving away from a long-term business model between AMC and Universal.

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Aron said the chain, which remains largely closed despite governors in select states authorizing the re-opening of theaters, would not distribute Universal — or any other studio’s content — globally if they stray away from the “theaters first” doctrine.

The executive said theatrical releases is a segue for future retail distribution, including boosting publicity, positive word-of-mouth, critical acclaim and downstream revenue. Aron said Universal wants to have its cake and eat it too by combining distribution channels.

“[Universal] assumes that we will meekly accept a reshaped view of how studios and exhibitors should interact, with zero concern on how its actions affect us,” Aron said.

He said AMC has invested significant time and energy with Universal executives over the past few years trying to figure out a new distribution models that would be beneficial both parties. Aron has previously mentioned helping studios distribute movies on its website and in theaters — the latter through packaged media.

“AMC is willing to sit down with Universal to discuss different windows strategies and different economic models between your company and ours,” Aron wrote. “However, in the absence of such discussions, and an acceptable conclusion thereto, our decades of incredibly successful business activity together has sadly come to an end.”

Universal Pictures, in a statement, called Aron’s letter disappointing. It said the decision to release Trolls World Tour on PVOD was done to offer consumers sheltering in home an alternative entertainment option.

“Based on the enthusiastic response to the film, we believe we made the right move,” Universal said. “In fact, given the choice of not releasing Trolls World Tour, which would not only have prevented consumers from experiencing the movie but also negatively impacted our partners and employees, the decision was clear.”

The studio said it still believes in the theatrical business model and said it has made no comment to contrary. It said it always seeks to make its movies available to as wide an audience as possible.

“We look forward to having additional private conversations with our exhibition partners, but are disappointed by this seemingly coordinated attempt from AMC and [trade group National Association of Theatre Owners] to confuse our position and our actions,” Universal said.

NBCUniversal Bows $150 Million Employee Fund as CEO Jeff Shell Says He Has the Coronavirus

NBCUniversal has created a $150 million fund for employees, production personnel and amusement staff impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. The announcement by CEO Jeff Shell included his admission to being diagnosed with COVID-19.

“I recently have been feeling under the weather and just learned that I have tested positive for COVID-19,” Shell wrote in a staff memo. “Although the virus has been tough to cope with, I have managed to work remotely in L.A. and am improving every day.”

Shell, who assumed the senior executive position following the retirement of Steve Burke, paid tribute to Larry Edgeworth, an audio technician at NBC News, who passed away due to complications from the virus.

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“Our hearts go out to his family, friends and co-workers,” Shell wrote.

The news comes as NBCUniversal’s marquee primetime event, the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, have been postponed to 2021, resulting in a $1.2 billion ad-revenue hit. The company’s Peacock subscription service remains on schedule to launch in April.

With the delays and postponements, 2021 is shaping up to be a busy year for NBCUniversal, which is opening a new theme park in Beijing, followed by the Tokyo Olympics and 2022 Winter Olympics, the Super Bowl and the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

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“We will have the return of our tentpole films like F9 and Minions: The Rise Of Gru, and an avalanche of new TV shows,” Shell wrote. “The present may be challenging, but it is impossible not to feel optimistic about the future.”

Universal Releasing Theatrical, Home Entertainment Releases Simultaneously

Seeking to counter the coronavirus spread and delayed theatrical release schedules, Universal Pictures March 16 announced it would release its current theatrical slate into home entertainment distribution channels simultaneously.

The sudden move in one stroke eliminated the traditional 90-day theatrical window — an exclusivity exhibitors have fought hard for ever since home entertainment emerged. But last weekend’s domestic box office was the lowest in 20 years, prompting the studio to act.

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Movies include The Invisible Man, The Hunt and Emma, among others. Universal’s DreamWorks Animation Trolls sequel, Trolls World Tour, will now hit theatrical and home entertainment channels April 10. Titles will be available on assorted digital channels for a 48-hour rental period at $19.99 each.

“Rather than delaying these films or releasing them into a challenged distribution landscape, we wanted to provide an option for people to view these titles in the home that is both accessible and affordable,” NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell said in a statement. “We hope and believe that people will still go to the movies in theaters where available, but we understand that for people in different areas of the world that is increasingly becoming less possible.”

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Movie theaters have now been closed in more than 30 markets around the world, while in the United States, the AMC Theatres chain announced it would limit movie attendance to 50 in an attempt to adhere to “social distancing” guidelines. Earlier, AMC had said it would cut capacity in its theaters by half.

In New York City and Los Angeles, mayors have ordered all movies theaters to be closed.

In its latest guidelines, issued March 15, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that for the next eight weeks, organizers cancel or postpone in-person events that consist of 50 people or more throughout the United States.

 

Jeff Shell to Become NBC Universal CEO on Jan. 1, 2020

As expected, NBC Universal has tapped Jeff Shell to become chairman and CEO of the media company effective Jan. 1, 2020, replacing Steve Burke, who announced he is stepping down after eight years. NBC Universal properties include Universal Pictures and Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

Shell is a longtime NBC executive having overseen NBC Entertainment, Universal Filmed Entertainment Group, Telemundo and NBC Universal International, among other positions.

Burke will retire on Aug. 14, 2020, following the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Shell will report to Burke, who will move to the role of chairman, NBC Universal. Upon Burke’s retirement, Shell will report directly to Brian Roberts, Chairman and CEO of Comcast Corp., which completed its takeover of the company in January 2011.

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“Jeff Shell is the ideal executive to take the helm at NBC Universal,” Roberts said in a statement. “He has a stellar track record across both the film and TV side of the business, as well as a wealth of international experience. I could not be more confident in his ability to lead NBC Universal into the future.”

Under Burke’s leadership, NBC Universal increased its adjusted pre-tax earnings from $3.4 billion to $8.6 billion since the Comcast acquisition through 2018 — achieving the fastest annual growth rate of any major media company.

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Yet Burke has also been hesitant to embrace over-the-top video, including online TV. The executive famously told an investor call in 2017 that online TV was a money-losing proposition, adding the format was not “material” to the pay-TV business.

“We have deals in place with all of them,” Burke said on the call. “But it’s a very tough business and we’re skeptical it’s going to be a very large business or profitable business for the people that are in it. And they’re off to a relatively slow start.”

NBC Universal CEO Steve Burke Stepping Down in 2020

NBC Universal CEO Steve Burke is reportedly leaving his position in 2020, nine years after assuming the title following Comcast’s acquisition of NBC Universal from General Electric.

Burke would likely be replaced by Jeff Shell, current chairman of Universal Film and Entertainment, although no official announcements about the executive changes have been made by Comcast.

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The 61-year-old Burke’s departure comes as NBC Universal readies Peacock, a branded subscription video-on-demand platform with an ad-supported component. It marks Comcast’s first standalone foray into over-the-top video distribution after decades of sticking behind cable-based pay-tv.

Indeed, as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu, which Comcast co-owned, flourished, Burke insisted digital distribution — notably online TV — was “not all that material to our business.”

“We have deals in place with all of them,” Burke said on a 2017 fiscal call. “But it’s a very tough business and we’re skeptical it’s going to be a very large business or profitable business for the people that are in it. And they’re off to a relatively slow start.”

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On that call, Burke agreed linear pay-TV would continue to be challenged by online, but suggested cable distribution, which features prominently in the company’s quadrennial Olympics, Super Bowl and NBC Network broadcasts, remained lucrative.

“[Broadcast] demand for the last two or three years has been remarkably consistent,” he said at the time. The business is “certainly more challenging, but I like our hand.”