Wakeup Call

It's 'Today' Without Matt Lauer, and That's Just Fine

If this is truly the watershed moment, then the message needs to be that no one is irreplaceable -- not even a moneymaker like Lauer.
Photographer: Drew Angerer/Getty Images
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Don't worry about Comcast Corp. or NBCUniversal. Firing Matt Lauer was a good business decision, plain and simple. 

The media giant on Wednesday showed the door to one of its biggest stars because of allegations of sexual misconduct. That makes Lauer, the longtime host of the morning news staple the "Today" show, the latest in a line of powerful men in the media world to be dismissed amid such accusations -- from Hollywood bigwig Harvey Weinstein to Charlie Rose of CBS Corp.'s "This Morning." 1 The problem isn't unique to the entertainment industry, with Senate candidate Roy Moore, Senator Al Franken and President Donald Trump facing their own allegations, along with a number of Silicon Valley figures.

To the extent the unfolding revelations and repercussions mean this type of behavior will no longer be tolerated, it's a watershed moment. That's why we must resist the temptation to start theorizing on how losing Lauer may hurt the "Today" show's advertising dollars. 

Tuning In

Advertising on NBCUniversal's cable networks and broadcast television contributed about 11% of Comcast's revenue, or roughly $9.2 billion, in the past 12 months

Source: Bloomberg

It's true the scandals come amid a particularly difficult year for media companies, as more people opt for services such as Netflix over a trip to the movies or traditional cable-TV packages. (Last quarter Comcast suffered its biggest loss of cable customers in three years, though I've argued it's in better shape than most.) Weinstein's downfall has even threatened his entire business, leaving the film studio behind "Silver Linings Playbook" scrambling to find a buyer to rescue it. 

The Lauer instance is by far the most significant, though, because of the dotted line from his spot in front of the camera to a large number of investors' pockets -- not to mention the millions of viewers who watch him each day, turning him into a household name. Comcast has a $174 billion market value and more than $80 billion of annual sales, around 40 percent of which comes from the NBCUniversal division it acquired in 2011. The "Today" show alone generated about $508 million of advertising revenue last year, Bloomberg News reported, citing Kantar Media data. 

And yet Comcast's stock managed to climb more than 2 percent Wednesday, its biggest one-day gain since January. Some of the movement may be due to NBCUniversal's seemingly speedy handling of the matter (though a Variety report paints a slightly different picture). We also still don't know the details as far as the claims, how NBC went about investigating them and whether Lauer was given due process.

Whatever the case, it's likely that Comcast shares are up for two reasons: media stocks broadly are being lifted by merger speculation involving 21st Century Fox Inc. and Walt Disney Co., and if NBCUniversal was justified in firing Lauer, investors don't see the "Today" show's success or profits dependent on him. 

Holding Up

Despite industry headwinds, Comcast has remained a stable operator with more consistent profitable growth than its rivals on both the pay-TV and programming sides

Source: Bloomberg

Sexual harassment allegations also shouldn't be reduced to a business-sensitivity analysis. To do so misses the point. At the end of the day, any company is better off -- and I do mean financially better off -- without someone who uses their power for inappropriate sexual behavior that makes the workplace a threatening place for colleagues and stymies women's ability to climb the ranks. These recent events aren't an industry talent drain. Rather, they're helping change the environment for the better so that other deserving talent isn't held down. 

That's not to say this isn't painful for the businesses and their fans, but it's contributing to a bigger change that will benefit everyone. And so if this is truly the watershed moment, then the message needs to be that no one is irreplaceable -- not even a moneymaker like Matt Lauer.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.
  1. Bloomberg TV also stopped carrying reruns of Rose's show. The network is owned by Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.

To contact the author of this story:
Tara Lachapelle in New York at tlachapelle@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Beth Williams at bewilliams@bloomberg.net

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