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Jeff Zucker out at NBC, Jon Klein exits CNN amid prime-time losses

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Christian Hartmann/Reuters/File

(Read caption) Jeff Zucker, chief executive of NBC Universal, attended a session at the World Economic Forum in Davos in this January 29 file photo.

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In a moment of major upheaval in the media industry, on Friday CNN and NBC Universal each announced the replacement of top executives. NBC Universal Chief Executive Jeff Zucker and CNN President Jon Klein both have been shown the door.

While there are major differences between the two businesses, common themes underlie the personnel moves. Both CNN and NBC Universal are being buffeted, as all media organizations are, by the rapid rise in online competitors. Despite that upheaval, both organizations are solidly profitable. But CNN and NBC have suffered erosion in their prime-time ratings.

Jeff Zucker is the better known of the two figures, and has a reputation as having been a boy wonder. He became executive producer of the immensely profitable "Today" program at age 26. He told New York Times reporter Bill Carter, who broke the story of his departure, that leaving was not his own choice and was “incredibly emotional” and “gut wrenching.”

In a letter to NBC employees, Mr. Zucker said, ‘I’ve spent the last 24 years thinking only about NBC Universal and never contemplated anything else.” He is leaving at the request of NBC’s news owner. In December 2009, Comcast Corp. agreed to buy a 51 percent stake in NBC from General Electric Co. The deal is still subject to regulatory hurdles but is slated to close by the end of 2010.

As Zucker explained to the Times, “I understand it. They spent billions of dollars. It’s the way it goes.” Zucker said he would stay at NBC “until the day the deal closes” with Comcast.

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