NBCUniversal president Jeff Schell fired over ‘inappropriate relationship’

Jeff Schell is stepping down as chief executive of NBC Universal, parent company Comcast said Sunday, after an investigation into allegations of inappropriate behavior with a female colleague.

Schell, who has served as the media and entertainment group’s top executive since January 2020, said in a statement provided by Comcast that he “had an inappropriate relationship with a woman at the company.” An investigation into the complaint was led by outside counsel, Comcast said.

A 19-year veteran of the company, Schell oversaw an empire at NBCUniversal that spanned from NBC television networks to Universal film studios, parks and resorts. In recent years, he has struggled with the challenge of boosting subscriptions to the Peacock streaming service, which has reached more than 20 million subscribers but lags far behind Netflix and Disney Plus.

Shell’s team — which includes Universal chair Donna Langley and Mark Lazarus, head of the television and streaming business — will now report to Comcast chairman Mike Cavanagh.

No succession plan has been announced, but a long list of potential replacements includes Lazarus, head of news Cesar Conte and president of global advertising and partnerships Linda Yaccarino, observers said. Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts may ask Stephen Burke to return to the role; Burke currently serves as president of NBCUniversal.

Those who worked with Shell said he had long enjoyed Roberts’ trust. In a memo to staff seen by the Financial Times, Roberts said he was “disappointed” to share the news of Shell’s exit. He said employees need to trust “leaders to create a safe and respectful workplace.”

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“When our principles and policies are violated, as we have done here, we always move quickly to take appropriate action,” Roberts wrote in the memo, which Cavanaugh signed.

Shell’s departure follows other high-profile layoffs at NBC. In 2020, Universal Vice President Ron Mayer was fired after admitting he had a consensual affair with a woman. Matt Lauer was once the main face of American morning news Today The show was canceled in 2017 following allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior with staff.

Wall Street is concerned about some media assets overseen by Shell, particularly the Peacock streaming service.

Peacock reported a $978 million loss in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization in the fourth quarter, and the company forecast losses for the year will be around $3 billion.

“Questions remain unanswered as to whether Peacock will ever succeed or achieve attractive long-term margins,” analysts at Moffett Nathanson wrote in January.

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