Lauren Zalaznick has made her first major hire in her new role driving innovation at NBCU, bringing in A&E distribution executive Lori Conkling to be a senior strategist in charge of digital monetization, TheWrap has learned.
"Lori is a key hire for the company's newly dedicated effort to drive growth through monetization of our innovative content across all platforms in new and transformative ways," Zalaznick said in a statement obtained by TheWrap.
Conkling has been tasked with developing what NBCU is calling "an actionable business strategy for NBCU's new and existing digital businesses, with a particular focus on mobile."
Zalaznick has declined to speak to TheWrap on the topic. NBCU was expected to announce the hire officially this week.
Some industry insiders have speculated that Zalaznick's new role is merely a polite placeholder in the wake of NBCU giving many of her former responsibilities running Bravo and Oxygen to Bonnie Hammer, who is now at the top of the network's powerful, lucrative cable properties.
The Conkling hire suggests that Zalaznick is serious about her new, senior and somewhat amorphous executive position at NBCU: EVP NBCUniversal and the company's mandate to figure out how to make money from all those stray eyeballs in the digital space and outside traditional television windows. The area of digital change is one that Zalaznick delved into in her previous role; among the conundrums facing NBCU and all major television networks is the fact that millions of viewers watch their shows in a time frame and on formats not supported by advertising.
Zalaznick was moved to the newly-created position in a shakeup at the top of NBCU earlier this month to -- as CEO Steve Burke put it -- focus on "innovation, digital, monetization and emerging technology across the company."
Individuals close to Zalaznick insist that the executive is excited by the challenge of her new role and was, in one insider's words, "a little bit bored" in her previous responsibilities. She has been at NBCU since 2004.
Shows at NBCU, for example, are paid within a three-day viewing window, while audience metrics measure significant viewership within a seven-day window. Furthermore, networks have huge engagement over mobile but like most companies, have not yet figured out a way to mine real revenue from this audience.
A knowledgeable executive told TheWrap that other hires would follow, but that Conkling would be the most senior, and from outside. At AEN, Conkling oversaw distribution strategy across multiple platforms for the company's 10 networks, including A&E, History, Lifetime Television and LMN, which she grew to 85 million U.S. subscribers. She also directly oversaw field sales and national accounts in the U.S. and Canada.