Steve Burke, a Comcast Corp. executive and stalwart of the entertainment industry, is stepping down as the head of NBCUniversal next year, handing the reins to his lieutenant Jeff Shell, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Burke will leave when his contract expires in August, said the person, who asked not to be identified discussing private information. Shell, the head of the film side of NBCUniversal, was given additional duties in a January shake-up, setting the stage for him to take over the business.
Variety reported on Thursday about Burke’s coming departure.
Burke’s exit comes at a challenging moment for NBCUniversal. The business — a sprawling entertainment operation that includes NBC, Universal Pictures, and theme parks — is preparing to launch a streaming platform called Peacock next year.
The new service is up against a crowded field of competitors, including Netflix, HBO Max, Disney+ and Apple TV+.
Besides the launch of Peacock, NBC will broadcast the Olympics from Tokyo starting in late July while negotiations to renew NBC’s NFL broadcast rights are on the horizon. Meanwhile, NBC’s broadcast and cable channels continues to grapple with declining ratings and subscribers caused by the rise of cord cutting and new online entertainment options.
Burke, 61, serves on the boards of JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Berkshire Hathaway Inc., the Warren Buffett company. His father, Daniel, helped create Capital Cities/ABC, which was bought by Disney after Buffett helped bankroll Capital Cities’ purchase of ABC.
Burke’s longstanding ties to Buffett’s empire — including a nearly decade-long stint on the board — have led to speculation that he might take a bigger role at Berkshire.
At NBCUniversal, a succession contest has been underway for years. It’s long been expected that either Shell or Mark Lazarus, who oversees broadcast, cable, sports, and news at NBCUniversal, would replace Burke as head of the business. But it wasn’t clear that a change would come this soon.
Burke is one of the most powerful people in the entertainment industry, and his departure will reverberate through Hollywood and New York. He began running the business in 2011 after Comcast took control of NBCUniversal from General Electric Co. He previously served as operating chief at Comcast, helping turn it into the largest U.S. cable provider.
Before joining Comcast in 1998, Burke was president of ABC Broadcasting at Disney. He also helped start Disney’s retail stores.
Succession is also looming at Disney, where CEO Bob Iger is slated to retire at the end of 2021.