Jeff Shell resigned as CEO of NBCUniversal on Sunday after admitting an “inappropriate relationship” with a woman at the company’s parent company Komcast announced.
“Today is my last day as CEO of NBCUniversal. I had an inappropriate relationship with a woman in the company, which I deeply regret. I am truly sorry to have let down my Comcast and NBCUniversal colleagues, they are the most talented people in the business and it has been a privilege to have the opportunity to work with them over the past 19 years,” Shell said in an explanation.
Comcast retained outside counsel to conduct an investigation following a complaint. The complaint was made by the woman with whom Shell had an “inappropriate relationship”, according to people familiar with the matter. They declined to be named due to the sensitive nature of the developments.
A company email said Shell’s team would report to Comcast President Mike Cavanagh. The company has not held talks or searched for a replacement, and has no intention of doing so immediately, said a person close to the matter. Shell and other NBCUniversal executives have reported to Cavanagh for some time, and he knows the business well, the person said.
“We are disappointed to share this news with you. We built this company on a culture of integrity. Nothing is more important than how we treat each other. You should rest assured that your leaders provide a safe and respectful workplace where policies are violated, we will always act quickly to take appropriate action, as we have done here,” said Brian Roberts, CEO of Cavanagh and Comcast, in a separate statement on Sunday.
Roberts will also become more involved in the NBCUniversal business alongside Cavanagh, the person said.
Shell, who is married, took over as CEO of NBCUniversal in January 2020. He oversaw the company’s theme parks, the Peacock streaming service, sports production, the television network group, and entertainment and news networks such as NBC News.
Much of his time as CEO was marked by the Covid pandemic, which forced the US and much of the world to close weeks in his new position. During this time, theme parks and movie theaters were closed and the entertainment industry was turned upside down with film and television production shutting down.
Shell, Steve Burke’s successor, ushered in the launch of Peacock, NBCUniversal’s answer to the streaming wars, in mid-2020. While Peacock was being formulated under Burke, the streaming service was growing, adding more subscribers and content with Shell at the helm.
Peacock’s losses have weighed on NBCUniversal’s overall business. During the company’s most recent conference call, Cavanagh said Peacock’s 2022 losses were consistent with its earlier guidance of $2.5 billion. Comcast has announced that Peacock’s losses will be as high as $2 billion in 2023. Comcast will announce earnings on Thursday. Comcast’s shares are up about 8% so far this year.
Just months after assuming the CEO post, Shell transformed NBCUniversal’s business and broke fiefdoms in the TV segment with the aim of making streaming and traditional television work more closely together.
The restructuring saw layoffs that were expected to affect less than 10% of the then 35,000 full-time employees. Reductions were made across all NBCUniversal businesses.
NBCUniversal also rated its portfolio of cable television networks under Shell. In 2021, the company closed NBC Sports and shifted much of its sports programming to USA Network and Peacock. Peacock has also become the streaming home of the Olympics.
At the same time, longtime NBCUniversal executive Ron Meyer left the company after announcing he was under threat of blackmail over a private settlement with a woman following an extramarital affair.
At the time, Shell informed employees of Meyer’s exit, saying: “Ron Meyer has informed NBCUniversal that he acted in a way that we believe is inconsistent with our company policies or values.”
Shell had risen through the ranks of Comcast and NBCUniversal over the years.
One of his earliest roles was as President of Comcast’s programming group, where he ran national and regional television networks including E! He was also previously Chairman of NBCUniversal International and later Chairman of Universal Filmed Entertainment Group from 2013 to 2019. Before taking the helm as CEO, Shell was Chairman of NBCUniversal Film and Entertainment.
Disclosure: Comcast owns NBCUniversal, CNBC’s parent company.