Jeff Shell, CEO of NBCUniversal, Steps Down After Inquiry

Jeff Shell, the chief executive of NBCUniversal, is leaving the company after an investigation into an inappropriate workplace relationship, the company’s owner, Comcast, said in a statement on Sunday.

In the statement, Mr. Shell said that Sunday would be his last day and that he had had “an inappropriate relationship with a woman in the company.”

“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 19 years has been a privilege.”

Comcast’s terse statement did not say who would be replacing Mr. Shell at NBCUniversal, which he has led since 2020.

But in a note to employees on Sunday, Comcast’s chief executive, Brian Roberts, said that Mr. Shell’s senior team would report to Mike Cavanagh, Comcast’s president, putting Mr. Cavanagh in effective control of NBCUniversal.

“We are disappointed to share this news with you,” Mr. Roberts wrote. “We built this company on a culture of integrity. Nothing is more important than how we treat each other.”

News of Mr. Shell’s exit from NBCUniversal sent texts whizzing across New York and Hollywood, where he commanded Comcast’s sprawling entertainment empire. His departure comes at a pivotal time for Comcast, which is navigating the tricky transition from the traditional TV and cable businesses to a future anchored by streaming video, broadband internet and wireless services.

Peacock, NBCUniversal’s streaming service, has had some momentum in recent months, but remains small compared with its peers. Peacock has more than 20 million paid subscribers, significantly fewer than Netflix (232 million) or Warner Bros. Discovery’s offerings of HBO Max and Discovery+ (96 million). Some of the major media companies’ streaming businesses are still losing money, and Peacock is no exception. It lost around $2.5 billion last year, and is projected to lose another $3 billion this year.

NBCUniversal also owns many cable networks, including Bravo, E!, MSNBC and USA, which are facing a decline in traditional TV viewership.

The inquiry into Mr. Shell began in recent weeks after the woman involved in the relationship came forward with a complaint, according to two people familiar with the timeline of the investigation. Mr. Shell continued in his duties while the investigation proceeded, taking previously scheduled meetings with lawmakers in Washington and working on other matters. Mr. Shell was also scheduled to attend the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner in Washington with his wife next Saturday.

The investigation, conducted by an outside law firm, was not widely known throughout Comcast until its conclusion, according to three people familiar with the matter. Mr. Roberts and Mr. Cavanagh called executives who directly work with Mr. Shell this weekend to tell them Mr. Shell was leaving and to brief them on the abrupt leadership transition.

While not the largest movie studio in Hollywood, Universal Pictures has been quite successful. Highlights from 2022 included “Jurassic World: Dominion” and “Minions: Rise of Gru.” This year started even stronger, with “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” closing in on $900 million in worldwide ticket sales after only three weekends in theaters, making it the company’s highest-grossing animated film in its history.

Other highly anticipated films set for release this year include the 10th iteration of the “Fast and Furious” franchise along with Christopher Nolan’s highly anticipated “Oppenheimer,” about the famed nuclear physicist. The studio has also started a flexible distribution strategy that uses a staggered rollout between theaters and its streaming service, Peacock, for bigger films. For smaller titles, like “Marry Me,” starring Jennifer Lopez, and the horror film “Firestarter,” which both came out last year, the theatrical and streaming debuts are simultaneous.

The company’s theme parks have also been a bright spot, with higher attendance and guest spending leading to record profits last year. The company is planning to open theme parks in Las Vegas and Frisco, Texas, in the next several years.

The company is set to report quarterly earnings this week, a conference call that will be closely scrutinized.

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