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Stephen B. Burke, the chief executive of NBCUniversal, plans to step down next year, capping a decade as the leader of one of the largest media conglomerates in the country, a business that includes the Universal film studios, a set of cable outlets and the broadcast network NBC, which has been the home of the Olympics for more than two decades.
Mr. Burke, 61, plans to relinquish his position when his contract expires in August, after the Tokyo Olympics, three people familiar with the plan said. They declined to be named because they were not authorized to speak on the matter. Mr. Burke could also step aside before August, two of the people said. NBCUniversal is owned by cable giant Comcast, which acquired the business in 2011.
The news was first reported by Variety.
Jeff Shell, a longtime NBCUniversal executive, is a leading candidate to replace Mr. Burke, the people said. In January, as part of an executive shuffle, Mr. Shell was put in charge of NBCUniversal’s Hollywood operations, as well as its international business and the Spanish-language network Telemundo. Mr. Shell is likely to split his time between Los Angeles, where he is based, and New York. A onetime Comcast executive, Mr. Shell has been seen since his promotion as a likely successor to Mr. Burke.
NBCUniversal declined to comment.
In a January interview, Mr. Burke said the executive moves were a way to streamline the management structure. In addition to elevating Mr. Shell, the changes put Mark Lazarus, the longtime head of the company’s sports division, in charge of the NBC broadcast network, including the news division and cable networks.
Many in the industry interpreted the January shake-up as a way for Mr. Burke to set up his potential replacement, but he played down the idea he was looking to the exits. “I’m not going anywhere,” he said at the time.
The people familiar with Mr. Burke’s plan to step down said they expected him to spend time at his ranch in Montana — he once called it his “favorite place in the world” — rather than take an executive role elsewhere.
For close to two decades, Mr. Burke has worked with Brian L. Roberts, the head of the family that controls Comcast, and the two have developed a deep bond. Mr. Burke could remain an adviser to Mr. Roberts, the people said. Mr. Burke still serves on several boards, including Berkshire Hathaway, led by the billionaire investor Warren E. Buffett, whom he considers a friend, as well as JPMorgan Chase.
Before being named chief executive of NBCUniversal in 2011, he had served as the No. 2 executive at Comcast. Mr. Burke has made nearly $200 million in compensation since 2014, according to securities filings.
Media is the family trade. His father, Daniel B. Burke, was the head of Capital Cities, which acquired ABC in 1985. The younger Mr. Burke did not gravitate toward the glamorous side of the business, instead developing a reputation as a hard-nosed executive who eschewed internal politics and red-carpet premieres. He could sometimes come across as reserved, even cold, several people who have worked with him have said.
NBCUniversal flourished under Mr. Burke. He nearly doubled the size of the business after he took it over, increasing revenues 86 percent to more than $35 billion a year. But he was also slower to adapt to the growing streaming landscape, as Netflix signed up 158 million subscribers worldwide as traditional cable customers dropped off.
Like its competitors, NBCUniversal faces the pressures of the decline of traditional TV. The shift in viewing habits has forced established media companies to push into streaming, and NBCUniversal plans to launch its own platform, Peacock, in April. The company will offer financial details on the new business at an investor presentation next month, but the service is meant to be driven by advertising.
That potentially sets it apart from Netflix, Disney Plus and the coming HBO Max, none of which has ads. Peacock is likely to have three tiers of service, the people said. One, with commercials, will come free of charge, and the next level will feature more content but cost a few dollars a month. The most expensive tier will not have advertising.
John Koblin contributed reporting.
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