Media News

UPDATE 2-NBCU boss Zucker to leave after Comcast deal

* Zucker says does not know what he will do next

* Says NBC Universal-Comcast venture “still months away”

* Zucker has been with the company for 24 years

* Comcast COO Burke likely to oversee joint venture (Adds possible successor Steve Burke, background on Zucker)

NEW YORK, Sept 24 (Reuters) - NBC Universal's top executive Jeff Zucker will leave after Comcast Corp CMCSA.O takes control, Zucker wrote in a memo to the company on Friday, ending many months of media speculation on his future.

NBC Universal is being merged with Comcast Corp's entertainment unit in a joint venture with current owner General Electric Co GE.N, pending the outcome of a government review.

Many media watchers guessed that Zucker, who became chief executive at NBC Universal in 2007, would leave NBC after the Comcast deal was announced in December, but they expected him to keep his job at least initially.

Steve Burke, Comcast’s chief operating officer, is likely to oversee the joint venture which will include NBC Universal.

Zucker, 45, was widely blamed for NBC’s decline in viewership, and it finished last among the four major networks in overall viewership last season.

Among Zucker’s controversial moves was his handling of signature late-night program “The Tonight Show.” Comedian Conan O’Brien took over the job from Jay Leno last year as part of a long-planned succession, but he quit the job after NBC executives sought to have Leno return as a lead-in.

Industry watchers also questioned his decision to appoint Ben Silverman as head of NBC Entertainment in 2007 which was soon followed by spiraling ratings. Silverman left in 2009.

But Zucker helped build a stable of valuable cable networks like USA and Bravo, which like other networks are highly valued by Wall Street -- more so than broadcast networks.

“Jeff Zucker has devoted his entire professional life to NBC, and he has led the company with integrity and purpose,” said Comcast Chairman and CEO Brian Roberts.

“The success of NBC Universal puts us in a wonderful position as we plan for our joint venture with GE. We wish Jeff well in his future endeavors,” Roberts said.

Zucker, who has been with the company for 24 years, said the move would be the right decision for NBC Universal and for himself. He said he did not know what he would do next.

“I haven’t even begun to think about the next chapter,” he said in the memo, which Reuters obtained via email.

Zucker said that he will stay in the position until the merger with Comcast closes and he said that day is “still months away.”

Comcast executives have said they expect the deal to be closed by the end of the year. (Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis and Sinead Carew. Editing by Robert MacMillan)