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NBC Universal on Thursday named Jeff Zucker to head a newly-expanded television group at a time when the network is trying to revive its faded prime time line-up and adapt to new forms of digital distribution.

Mr Zucker, who had been the president of the NBC Universal Television Group, will now be chief executive of a larger media entity that encompasses everything from new programme development to sales and distribution, English and Spanish-language television stations and digital operations. From his new post, he will also oversee the group’s Olympic coverage, and could be in position to one day succeed Bob Wright as NBC Universal’s chairman.

NBC billed the restructuring as an effort to create a “seamless” operation 18 months after its merger with Universal, and at a time when the traditional broadcast television model is being transformed by the emergence of the iPod, video-on-demand and other digital distribution outlets. In such an environment, NBC believes it must have its executives all gathered around the same table so that they can move more quickly as they try to determine how to create, sell and distribute their programmes.

“It’s important that everybody who distributes our television content and makes our television content be working hand in hand because it’s all changing so quickly,” Mr Zucker said on Thursday.

Earlier this year, NBC announced agreements to sell its programmes through Apple’s iTunes store and satellite video-on-demand.

As part of the restructuring, Randy Falco will serve as president of the new group and report to Mr Zucker.

Meanwhile, Beth Comstock, chief marketing officer at GE, NBC Universal’s parent company, will become president of digital media.

Debbie Reif, who has been overseeing that task for NBC Universal, is expected to return to GE.

Mr Zucker’s promotion amounts to a vote of confidence in spite of NBC’s recent struggles under his watch. Mr Zucker rose to prominence as the youthful producer of the Today show, and then guided the broadcast network to a long and lucrative dominance of television ratings with such hits as Friends and Seinfeld.

Yet NBC has repeatedly misfired in its attempts to replace those programmes, dropping it to third place this year behind rivals CBS and ABC, and cutting into its advertising revenue. Its most recent disappointment was a spin-off of the Apprentice, featuring Martha Stewart, which the network decided not to renew.

“We’re struggling to re-build prime time, and we’re trying to take advantage of every aspect of our organisation,” said Bob Wright, chairman of NBC Universal.

When asked if Mr Zucker was now poised to succeed him, Mr Wright laughed and replied: “Absolutely, all he has to do is survive 2006 and 2007.”

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