Ron Meyer offered contract extension as head of Universal Studios
Comcast Corp. has made an offer to renew the contract of longtime Universal Studios chief Ron Meyer -- a potential vote of confidence that could quell speculation in Hollywood that his days in the job are numbered under the cable giant's new ownership.
But the two sides have yet to reach an agreement. A key sticking point in the negotiations is how long Meyer's contract will be extended beyond its current expiration in 2012. Comcast was offering a shorter extension than the executive would like, according to a person familiar with the matter who requested anonymity because of the confidentiality of the talks.
The negotiations indicate that Steve Burke, who became chief executive of Universal's parent company NBCUniversal when Comcast bought the media giant in January, is comfortable working with Meyer and his team at Universal for at least some time beyond next year, but appears not yet ready to commit for a longer term.
A spokesman for NBC Universal declined to comment, as did a spokeswoman for Universal Studios.
Meyer, 66, a former talent agent who co-founded the powerhouse Creative Artists Agency, has been president and chief operating officer of Universal's movie and theme parks businesses for 16 years. During that time he has had nine different bosses at Universal, which has been bought and sold by several different corporate parents including Seagram, Vivendi and General Electric.
Meyer's potential contract extension comes despite Universal's difficult run at the box office over the last two years, one littered with such costly flops as "Land of the Lost," "The Wolfman" and "Green Zone." In late 2009, Meyer fired his top film executives and replaced them with marketing chief Adam Fogelson and production president Donna Langley, who are now chairman and co-chairman, respectively. The duo's new slate of films is just starting to hit theaters, and their first big-budget release, "Fast Five," is a worldwide hit.
This past weekend, the studio's comedy "Bridesmaids" got off to a good start with $26.2 million in ticket sales.
When Comcast acquired NBCUniversal, many speculated that the Philadelphia-based cable operator would wait to see how the film studio's upcoming slate of high-risk projects -- including this summer's sci-fi western "Cowboys and Aliens" and next year's board game adaptation "Battleship" -- performed before making any management decisions.
Burke has told Wall Street that fixing NBC's ailing broadcast television network is top priority for the company. The Comcast executive has met with top Universal executives and consulted others in Hollywood about how best to manage the movie studio amid seismic shifts in consumer viewing habits. But so far he has not been intimately involved in the studio's operations or demanded any significant changes, according to people familiar with the matter.
-- Ben Fritz
Photo: Ron Meyer. Credit: David Livingston / Getty Images