July 27, 2009 / 3:01 PM / in 8 years

NBC executive Silverman exits for IAC venture

<p>Ben Silverman, co-chairman of NBC Entertainment, speaks during the "Reinventing Hollywood" panel at the Fortune Tech Brainstorm 2009 in Pasadena, California July 22, 2009. REUTERS/Phil McCarten</p>

NEW YORK (Reuters) - NBC Entertainment Co-Chairman Ben Silverman is leaving his job after two years atop the television broadcast network, having failed to resurrect its prime-time television schedule during his tenure.

Silverman, who for months has been the subject of rumors that he would leave the network, is forming a new company with Barry Diller’s IAC/InterActiveCorp that will produce and distribute programs for television, as well as the Web or even mobile devices, IAC said in a statement.

The shift comes two years after Silverman came to NBC Universal as a much-heralded producer of television shows like “The Office” and “Ugly Betty.” Marc Graboff served as co-chairman alongside Silverman, with the two executives essentially splitting business and creative duties.

During his time there, Silverman struggled to develop prime-time hits, and the NBC network remained stuck in last place in the ratings, behind CBS Corp’s CBS, News Corp’s Fox, and Walt Disney Co’s ABC. NBC Universal is 80 percent owned by General Electric and 20 percent owned by Vivendi.

While struggling in the ratings race, NBC made efforts to shift the usual way of doing business at a TV network: It began scheduling programs year-round; it markedly toned down its annual “upfront” presentations to advertisers; and it looked to reduce costs, notably moving Jay Leno’s late night show to prime time.

Advertisers have applauded NBC’s approach, and a number of its shows, including “30 Rock,” have won critical acclaim and top creative awards.

Still, Silverman has been on the hot seat. So much so that NBC Universal Chief Executive Jeff Zucker has had to publicly defend his top programing executive on several occasions.

Before Silverman leaves for the new venture, he will help launch NBC’s fall prime-time schedule. Graboff, who shared duties with Silverman, continue as chairman of NBC Entertainment and Universal

But Graboff will now report to Jeff Gaspin, who was promoted to chairman of NBC Universal Television Entertainment, expanding his duties.

Gaspin previously had management responsibility for the company’s entertainment cable networks -- including USA, SyFy, Bravo, Oxygen -- which have played an increasingly key role in profits. With the shake-up, Gaspin will oversee both broadcast and cable TV, as well as Universal Media Studios.

Meanwhile, Silverman will run the new company being formed with IAC. Behind the project is an idea to bring advertisers on board in the earliest stages of program development, having them sponsor and support shows from the beginning.

“This new venture will take full advantage of all areas of Ben Silverman’s extensive media expertise -- as an agent, producer and advertising innovator -- to create a truly integrated and truly interactive new media production entity, a next generation enterprise that bridges the gap between traditional television and the internet,” Diller said in a prepared statement.

IAC did not say how much it would invest in the company. NBC, however, said it could potentially invest, and IAC is expected to look to pull in other partners.

Reporting by Paul Thomasch; Editing by Derek Caney, Phil Berlowitz

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