Jeff Zucker will this week be named as successor to Bob Wright as chief executive of NBC Universal, the GE entertainment division, and end months of speculation about the departure of Mr Wright.

Mr Zucker, 41, has long been regarded as most likely to succeed his boss, who had been head of the network for 21 years and oversaw its expansion into a media force with cable assets, a Spanish-language network, a film studio and theme park.

People familiar with GE said Jeff Immelt, the conglomerate’s chairman and chief executive, had decided late last year Mr Zucker should take over early in 2007 and would announce the handover this week, probably on Tuesday.

NBC Universal ha gone through a shake-up following the erosion of its dominance in US television. It is also grappling with a slowing film business and the internet where Google’s YouTube and News Corp’s MySpace arewooing young viewers away from television.

GE declined to comment on the job changes, details of which were reported by the Los Angeles Times on Sunday.

As NBC has struggled in recent years, investors and Wall Street bankers have speculated whether GE would sell the media group.

Mr Immelt, however, has told staff he does not plan to sell NBC and its performance has improved. Mr Zucker last year led a big cost-cutting plan and scaled back the expensive primetime programming in an effort to turn the division around.

Mr Zucker will have risen from being a researcher in the network’s sports division to the top job in one of the biggest media conglomerates.

He built his reputation at NBC overseeing the Today show, its dominant morning programme. Even with the departure of anchor Katie Couric to rival CBS last year, it has still maintained its lead in the ratings race.

However, his ascent to the top job came into doubt in recent years as NBC failed to replace Friends, Seinfeld and Frasier, and fell to the back of the primetime ratings pack. After a series of programming frustrations and failures, however, the network has pointed to recent successes, including The Office and Heroes, as part of a broad recovery.

Mr Wright, 63, who built up NBC Universal under Jack Welch after GE bought the NBC network in 1986, is expected to stay at GE for some months to ensure a smooth transition, according to people familiar with the company’s plans.

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