UPDATED: Comcast dropped a bombshell Sunday, announcing that NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell is leaving the company, effective immediately. The “mutual” decision comes after an investigation led by outside counsel into a complaint on inappropriate conduct by Shell.
RELATED: Jeff Shell’s NBCU Exit Followed Probe Into Relationship With CNBC Journalist
“Today is my last day as CEO of NBCUniversal,” Shell said in a statement. “I had an inappropriate relationship with a woman in the company, which I deeply regret,” said Shell, who is married. “I’m truly sorry I let my Comcast and NBCUniversal colleagues down, they are the most talented people in the business and the opportunity to work with them the last 10 years has been a privilege.”
As NBCUniversal Manages Through Jeff Shell’s Stunning Exit, Trusted Comcast Exec Mike Cavanagh Enters The Showbiz Spotlight
Comcast made the announcement in a short press release; no successor has been named. In a memo to staff, Comcast Chairman and CEO Brian Roberts and President Mike Cavanagh said that in the interim, Shell’s senior team will report directly to Cavanagh.
That includes Donna Langley, chair of Universal Filmed Entertainment and Mark Lazarus, head of NBCU Television & Streaming, as well as Pearlena Igbokwe, chair of Universal Studios Group, Mark Woodbury, head of Universal Destinations & Experiences and Linda Yaccarino, head of global advertising and partnerships.
“We built this company on a culture of integrity,” Roberts and Cavanagh wrote in the memo, in which they said that they were “disappointed” to share the news of Shell’s exit. “Nothing is more important than how we treat each other. You should count on your leaders to create a safe and respectful workplace. When our principles and policies are violated, we will always move quickly to take the appropriate action, as we have done here.”
Roberts and Cavanagh sought to reassure NBCU staff.
“Please know that NBCUniversal is performing extremely well operationally and financially, and we couldn’t be more enthusiastic about our position and prospects going forward,” they said. “We are fortunate to have an experienced, word-class group of executives leading this incredible company.”
The major upheaval comes as NBCUniversal is facing a big decision, what to do with its stake in Hulu. It also comes as the company finally started to get some good news on its upstart streamer, Peacock, after a rocky first couple of years.
This past January, Shell talked about how bullish he and fellow Comcast execs felt about the company’s investment in Peacock and how it would soon yield profits. The company said Peacock had passed 20 million subscribers by the end of 2022, more than double its size at the start of the year. It added 5 million subscribers in the quarter thanks to Spanish-language World Cup coverage as well as original programming, other live sports and the addition of first-window movie titles and NBC and Bravo series that used to go to Hulu.
On the film side, Shell was a big proponent of collapsing theatrical windows, going day and date on Peacock.
Shell is a Comcast veteran. He became CEO of the company’s NBCUniversal division in January 2020, succeeding Steve Burke. Previously, Shell was Chairman of NBCUniversal Film and Entertainment. Prior to that, he served as Chairman of NBCUniversal International and President of Comcast Programming Group. He has been a trusted lieutenant of Comcast CEO Roberts for many years.
Cavanagh joined Comcast in 2015 as chief financial officer. He was previously Co-CEO of JPMorgan Chase’s Corporate & Investment Bank and the bank’s CFO for six years before that, helping it successfully navigate the financial crisis. He was promoted to president last fall to work closely with Roberts.
Shell’s departure comes less than three years after another top NBCUniversal executive, Vice Chairman Ron Meyer, exited abruptly after disclosing an affair and an extortion attempt. An affair with the same actress and its aftermath also led to the ouster of Warner Bros. Chairman and CEO Kevin Tsujihara.
Last year, Jeff Zucker resigned as President of CNN, citing his failure to disclose what he characterized as a “consensual relationship” with a colleague.
Jill Goldsmith contributed to this story.
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