NBCUniversal Chief Executive Steve Burke is planning to step down next year, accelerating an internal race to succeed him, according to two people familiar with the matter who were not authorized to comment.
Burke, 61, has managed NBCUniversal since Philadelphia cable giant Comcast Corp. purchased it in January 2011, shaping the once-tattered media company into a juggernaut. He has privately expressed an interest in leaving the company when his deal expires in August, according to the knowledgeable people.
NBCUniversal representatives declined to comment Thursday. Burke did not respond to a request for comment.
His departure would come at a pivotal time for the company. NBCUniversal has two signature events coming next year: the launch of Peacock, a planned streaming service, and the broadcast of the 2020 Summer Olympics. The games in Tokyo are expected to be highly profitable for NBCUniversal; already the company has received more than $1 billion in advertising commitments.
The leading candidate to replace Burke is Jeff Shell, 54, who has run the Los Angeles-based film studio Universal Pictures since 2013.
Shell is a veteran television executive who has long been one of Burke's most trusted lieutenants. The LA native became chairman of the film studio in 2013, and at the time was considered an unlikely pick because he had no experience in the movie business. Shell managed NBCUniversal's international operations from 2011 to 2013, but happily returned to his home in L.A. because Comcast wanted a corporate insider who was a Hollywood outsider to lead its West Coast charge.
"I was fully aware that he had never made a movie, or marketed a movie," Burke said of Shell in 2015 interview with The Times. "But Jeff is a very able executive. And the bigger the job in these companies, the more important it becomes that you can work well with the team. And Jeff has a particular style, and a humility about him."
Shell grew into the role, overseeing the film studio in its most profitable years. Early on, he hauled a stately library-style wooden desk once used by Universal's legendary mogul Lew Wasserman out of storage to serve as his own.
Earlier this year, Shell took on an expanded portfolio, which includes oversight of the NBC broadcast network, the company's international operations and its Spanish-language network Telemundo. The move in January telegraphed Burke's succession planning.
Shell began his career at the Salomon Bros. investment bank, then joined Walt Disney Co. in strategic planning. He worked a variety of jobs for 11 years at Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. but gambled on Comcast in 2004, in part because Burke was already there, helping run the business. Shell once told The Times he was impressed with Comcast's ambitions and swagger.