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E! Entertainment picks marketing executive as chief

Suzanne Kolb will lead a channel that's trying to focus its identity and direction.

July 08, 2011|Meg James

NBCUniversal's planned makeover of E! Entertainment has just ramped up with the appointment of marketing executive Suzanne Kolb as the channel's new president.

Thursday's selection of Kolb, a six-year veteran of E!, capped a six-month search that began in late January when Comcast Corp. took control of media giant NBCUniversal. Comcast promptly folded its cable channels, including the Los Angeles-based E!, into NBCUniversal's higher-performing cable channel portfolio. At the same time, Ted Harbert, head of Comcast's entertainment channels, received a new assignment -- running business operations for the NBC broadcast network -- which created a key opening in E!'s executive suite.

"Suzanne was poised and ready to go. She has the competency, the skills -- and the passion -- to help us take E! to the next level," Bonnie Hammer, chairwoman of NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment and Cable Studios, said in an interview Thursday. Kolb will report to Hammer, who is responsible for NBCUniversal's profitable USA and Syfy cable channels -- and now E!

Hammer's strategy is to slowly add scripted programs to E!'s splashy lineup, which has rocketed in the ratings with popular reality shows starring the Kardashian sisters -- "Keeping up with the Kardashians" and "Khloe & Lamar," featuring Los Angeles Lakers forward Lamar Odom. The channel also features an eclectic and saucy mix of tabloid celebrity news, with "E! News" and "The Soup," and the "Chelsea Lately" talk show with Chelsea Handler.

Hammer and Kolb acknowledged in a joint interview that they do not want to become too reliant on one or two franchises -- or become lackadaisical given E!'s recent ratings success. The channel consistently ranks in the top 15 cable channels among the 18-to-49 age group advertisers prefer.

Trends change, and young audiences are particularly fickle, prompting E! to launch a "brand audit" -- an exercise intended to figure out a more focused identity and direction for the channel.

"It's not so much about being broad-based or narrow, but rather coming up with a defined sense of who we are and where we want to go," Kolb said.

"We've had great growth over the last two years, but now we are taking the first step to see what the next era should look like," added Kolb, who most recently served as president of marketing, news and online for E! and the smaller Style network. Before joining E!, Kolb was a top marketing executive for the now-defunct WB network.

E! needs to find "a singular voice," Hammer said, adding that NBCUniversal's profitable USA Network underwent a similar brand audit several years ago.

"At USA, we needed to make sure that everyone was on the same page," Hammer said. "And that's where E! is now. With a little bit of tweaking, E! can become a top-10 or even a top-five network."

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