NBCUniveral CEO Jeff Shell has tested positive for the new coronavirus COVID-19. In a memo to the company (obtained by THR), Shell reveals that "I recently have been feeling under the weather and just learned that I have tested positive for COVID-19. Although the virus has been tough to cope with, I have managed to work remotely in LA and am improving every day." Shell's responsibilities include oversight of NBC Entertainment, Universal Filmed Entertainment Group, Telemundo, and NBCUniversal International; in other words, he's definitely a key component in managing the major media corporation.
NBCUniversal has made several recent headlines regarding the new coronavirus: Bravo star/host Andy Cohen revealed his COVID-19 diagnosis last week, while NBC News lost Larry Edgeworth, an audio technician that had been with the network for many years. Edgeworth's diagnosis and subsequent death sparked major concern, as he had been working as per usual within NBC News' headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in NYC, which has become a major epicenter for the Coronavirus Pandemic.
Shell has just taken the lead at NBCUniversal from Steve Burke. In 2019 the movie division had a good year, scoring more number #1 openings than Disney, with seven box office toppers (Us, Abominable, Glass, How to Train Your Dragon 3, The Secret Life of Pets 2, Hobbs & Shaw, and Good Boys). Unfortunately, the Coronavirus Pandemic has hit the studio's TV and movie productions just as hard as everyone else in Hollywood, which Universal Pictures' flagship franchise Fast & Furious having to delay its big 2020 release, Fast 9 (or F9) for an entire year. As the same time, Shells and Universal have been some of the quickest to adapt to the new reality of quarantines, work from home, and social distancing that COVID-19 has ushered in. The studio was the first out of the gate with transferring major new theatrical releases like The Hunt and The Invisible Man to On Demand Digital platforms, to meet content demands in a time where movie theaters are on lockdown.
Despite his health and diagnosis, Jeff Shell has continued to push new initiatives to his employees, designed at battling the coronavirus spread - as you can see in the memo below:
It’s hard to believe my last note to you was just two weeks ago. I know many of you share the feeling that lately each day feels like a week! We will all get through this difficult time together, but as we start to settle into our new normal, I find it helpful to think about things in two buckets: the short term, and what comes after.
In the short term, the goals are simple. Take care of each other and take care of our viewers. Taking care of each other means working from home. Many of you, like me, are working from home while trying to balance family commitments and other challenges, and I know this isn’t easy. But for those of you who can do your jobs from home, it is absolutely critical that you do so.
This will be the case for some time. While I can’t give you an end date, I can commit that we will give everyone ample warning before we ask you to return to the office. The other reason to work from home is that in the event you contract the virus, it will limit the number of your colleagues you inadvertently expose.
As some of you now know, I myself am in this category. I recently have been feeling under the weather and just learned that I have tested positive for COVID-19. Although the virus has been tough to cope with, I have managed to work remotely in L.A. and am improving every day. Unfortunately, one of our colleagues was not able to recover from the virus. Last week we learned Larry Edgeworth, a beloved audio technician at NBC News, passed away, and our hearts go out to his family, friends and co-workers.
Given the vital public service role of NBC News, MSNBC, CNBC, Telemundo and our local stations, many of our colleagues need to go into the office so we can tell the world what is going on. Their courage has been an inspiration and has made us all proud to work at this company. I want to thank this group for their dedication and commitment. I also want to commend our Operations and Technology group, which has seamlessly kept us on the air and enabled us to work remotely under challenging circumstances.
From morning to late night, our talent and news anchors have also been doing their part to inform and entertain from their homes. From Savannah reporting from her basement and Al doing the weather from his living room to Jimmy performing his monologue on his front steps and Seth hosting his new segment, A Closer Look, from home to Maria Celeste hosting Al Rojo Vivo from her dining room, and many CNBC, local stations and E! News correspondents reporting from home as well — we continue to deliver the best in live news and entertainment, despite the circumstances.
Additionally, to disseminate our news as widely as possible, we have made MSNBC and CNBC available to all video customers, regardless of their subscription package. Plus, our streaming service NBC News Now has expanded its coverage and our local stations are also streaming their newscasts. Obviously, most of our business is not operating normally. Our theme parks are temporarily closed. Our sports productions are paused, and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics has been postponed.
And most of our film and TV production around the world has been suspended. We are working to resume these activities as soon as possible, but of course not until it is safe to do so. In the meantime, we recognize that a sudden halt to production creates a significant financial hardship for many. To that end, we have committed over $150 million across our film, television and parks businesses to help our employees and other workers, and to at least partially bridge the period before normal operations can restart.
Despite these production challenges, the company has done a great job finding innovative ways to deliver content to our audiences at a time when people are at home and are looking for entertainment more than ever. On the film side, we announced our movies will be available in the home on the same day as their global theatrical releases. Titles including The Hunt, The Invisible Man and Emma are now available to rent on most popular on-demand services worldwide. Our tentpole animated film from DreamWorks Animation, Trolls World Tour, will be available April 10th and I hope many of you will have time to enjoy it at home with your families.
So here is the good news...while the short term is challenging, what comes after looks incredibly bright. Our parent company Comcast is strong and is doing a great job keeping a large part of this country connected. And when we think ahead to 2021, we have a lot to look forward to. The virus will pass, our world will return to normal, and when it does, we will be poised to have one of the busiest and most exciting years in our company’s history.
2021 will bring the opening of a new theme park in Beijing, followed by the Tokyo Olympics (followed in early 2022 by another Olympics, a Super Bowl and the World Cup!). We will have the return of our tentpole films like F9 and Minions: The Rise of Gru, and an avalanche of new TV shows. And all of this will serve to supercharge our critically important Peacock streaming service, which will launch as planned this year while people are home, and then use promotion like the world has never seen in 2021 to grow.0comments
The present may be challenging, but it is impossible not to feel optimistic about the future. In the meantime, please continue to take care of yourselves. I recognize how challenging these times are for everyone — both professionally and personally — and appreciate all that you do for this company.
Sincerely, Jeff Shell, Chief Executive Officer