At the beginning of her career, NBCUniversal News Group chairman Pat Fili-Krushel was running, quite literally, to keep up.
After a brief stint at Petry Television in advertising, she started as a secretary at ABC Sports, serving 14 unit managers, tasked with answering calls for each and making copies, among other duties.
She had to rush — sprint is more like it — across the office to make photocopies for her many bosses. One day, a young Bob Iger, studio supervisor for the soap One Life to Live (and now The Walt Disney Co. CEO), chanced upon her, again, in a harried state at the copier.
“Why are you always running?” he asked.
“They don’t want the phone ringing more than three times,” she said.
She’s hardly slowed her pace these days, but she’s come a long way from answering phones. Indeed, few executives, male or female, can match the sheer breadth of TV business experience of Fili-Krushel in a career that spans production, finance and deal-making in genres as diverse as sports, soaps and news.
NEWS JUNKIE IN CHARGE
Fili-Krushel joined NBCU at the close of its merger with Comcast, and 18 months ago took over a big piece of the combined empire. Generating more than $2 billion annually, the News Group — NBC News, MSNBC, CNBC, The Weather Channel and all related digital properties — reaches more than 147 million people each month, nearly half of all Americans aged 25- 54. The ensemble includes some of the company’s most popular brands, including Today, Morning Joe and Squawk Box.
The appointment was a first in many ways. It was the first time all of NBC’s news assets — CNBC, MSNBC and the mothership NBC News — were assembled under one leader. It was the first time a woman had been chosen for such a high-ranking position in news. And it was the first time Fili-Krushel tackled the news side of the television business.
She is the mother of two, and a 60-year-old, self-described media junkie who consumes Broadway, movies, magazines, newspapers and TV. She grew up in Queens, N.Y., and Long Island, and is known for being a quick study and a decisive straight-talker.
She reports directly to Steve Burke, CEO of NBCUniversal, in a role created to “enhance collaboration among our news brands,” as he wrote in the memo introducing her, adding, “she has my complete confidence.”
In an interview, as if on cue, Fili-Krushel excuses herself for a few minutes for a phone call — from Burke. He is asking for an opinion on The Weather Channel, which is sparring with DirecTV over carriage-agreement terms.
TWC faces the threat of TV-viewer erosion as younger consumers turn to digital devices. It’s a challenge all too familiar to Fili-Krushel, who is on a universal and difficult mission to “future- proof” the news at NBCU — to bring the company’s beloved brands to younger audiences and more platforms.
In the past 18 months, she has moved to integrate the various digital and TV operations, and closed on a dizzying number of changes, including:
• Purchasing Stringwire, a firm that aggregates eyewitness user-generated video content for breaking news and stories. NBC can recruit and direct contributors based on location through Twitter, as well as access live footage.
• Taking a minority stake in NowThis News, which creates short-form video that’s distributed across social media, aimed at younger viewers who don’t watch traditional newscasts.
• Creating second-screen experiences for shows like Meet the Press, and executing plans to overhaul the various news sites.
In addition to overseeing new hires, she has also led changes at the Today show, which is trying to regain its longtime No. 1 perch from ABC’s Good Morning America. She recently appointed Deborah Turness as the new president of NBC News, the first time a woman has led a major broadcast news organization. “In these big jobs you can’t afford not to hire the best person you can find,” Fili-Krushel said.
“Pat has created a culture of innovation at the News Group where new ideas are valued and embraced,” Turness said. “She challenges us every day to think about how we can expand NBC News within our existing brands and beyond.”
Fili-Krushel joined NBCU initially running human resources, operations and business strategy, after leaving Time Warner Inc., where she was executive VP of administration. There, she helped bridge the businesses, if not the cultures, of AOL and Time Warner. “It really honed my influencing skills,” she said.
Before Time Warner, Fili-Krushel ran the ABC TV network, including ABC News, where she launched the talk show The View. Her performance there caught the eye of Burke, who was at Disney/ABC at the time.
TRYING NEW SOAPS
While working in daytime TV at ABC which included soap operas, she achieved quick success by changing the entire feel of Loving into a crime drama featuring a serial killer. Ratings shot up. But when she tried to replicate some of the changes at another title, fans revolted. “I’m really big on listening,” she says now.
She gained much of her production and programming experience at senior positions at Lifetime and HBO, and online experience from a brief stint as CEO of WebMD Health.
Few of those experiences are left untapped in her current role. “Right now, we are going through a whole assessment of, ‘If this is where we need to be, what do we have in place and how do we get there in terms of infrastucture, relationships, cross-training?’ It needs to be news that gets to the consumer wherever they are.”
“It’s not just putting Nightly News on a website. What is the essence of these brands and how does it translate?”
TITLE: Chairman of NBCUniversal News Group
CAREERHIGHLIGHTS: Executive Vice President of Administration at Time Warner Inc.; CEO of WebMD Health; President of the ABC Television Network; Senior Vice President of Programming and Production of Lifetime Television
QUOTABLE: “It’s not just putting Nightly News on a website. What is the essence of these brands and how does it translate?”
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