In this profile, the LA Times’ intrepid Meg James does something you don’t see every day in a major daily: she profiles an executive no one has ever heard of, yet has quietly become an intrinsic part in an entertainment company’s profit-making machine. Every Leslie Moonves is supported by at least several dozen people like this formidable woman, Bridget Baker, NBC Universal’s president of TV networks distribution.
For years, Baker has been charged with securing distribution deals for NBC’s battery of networks: NBC, of course, as well as USA, Bravo, SyFy, Oxygen, CNBC and MSNBC. Her job is vital because while NBC gets all the attention, the cable nets make all the money: as James points out, cable distribution nets NBCU $8 billion annually, or half the company’s total revenue. That makes the $45 million NBC had to pay Conan off with look like petty cash.
Baker probably could have continued toiling in obscurity if one of NBC’s main distributors, Comcast, didn’t decide to purchase NBC Universal in a $30 billion deal. Now Baker finds herself thrust into the spotlight because of her solid relationship with Brian Roberts, the soft-spoken and just a bit geeky CEO of the country’s number-one cable operator, Comcast.
“I tell Brian, ‘I knew you back when you had 1.8 million homes,’ ” Baker says, referring to Comcast’s ascension from a small, regional cable operator to the industry leader reaching 23.5 million homes.
How that relationship will pan out when Baker is reporting to Roberts rather than selling to him remains to be seen, but her story proves that keeping your bridges intact is always your best long-term strategy. You never know when today’s client might become tomorrow’s boss.
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