What They’re Working On

As their host society skitters toward the cliff, what are our late-imperial corporate capitalists placing at the top of their managerial agenda?  About what you’d expect, according to Advertising Age, which reports on the prat standing at the right in the picture to your left:

Mr. Burke’s rise has been a quiet but noticeable one. His first job after graduating Harvard Business School was devising product ideas for Grape-Nuts, then owned by General Foods in White Plains, N.Y., not far from his childhood stomping grounds in and around Rye, N.Y.

In a private meeting, Irwin Gotlieb, the global CEO of WPP’s GroupM, Bill Koenigsberg, president-CEO of independent Horizon Media, and Rob Norman, chief executive of GroupM’s North American operations, were among the executives who got their first good look at Chief Operating Officer Stephen Burke, the senior Comcast Corp. executive who at the time was months away from officially being named the incoming leader at the mammoth NBC Universal.

Mr. Burke’s pedigree and management style point to an executive who thrives on intense, albeit quiet, competition. “The stimulus for him is more about the work than all of the other stuff that comes with it,” said William Burke, his youngest brother.

[T]he end goal will be to try and hitch Comcast’s massive cable footprint and the set-top box technology upon which it relies to hours of NBCU content to drive new TV-viewer behavior, such as responding to TV commercials with a remote and pushing the evolution of so-called “addressable” advertising.

These new formats could ultimately make TV advertising more valuable even as TV watching becomes a more diffuse activity. It’s this mix of “pipes, data and content,” said one senior media executive familiar with Mr. Burke, or the ability to devise entertainment as well as the means by which people see it, that might make the $37 billion-plus combination of Comcast and NBCU more compelling to Procter & Gamble or Unilever.

Indeed, Comcast has the opportunity to carve a new media landscape. “Comcast didn’t acquire NBC Universal to move Steve Burke to run the network,” said Group M’s Mr. Gotlieb. Instead, he suggested, Comcast purchased the company “because they saw significant synergies going forward” that include marrying the company’s ability to reach consumer homes with the content that draws consumers to the TV set, computer screen and digital device in the first place.

Such is the stuff of the scions of the executive salary, the absentee dividend, the classic stuffed-shirt pose:  “to drive new TV-viewer behavior.”

If you live to know your grandchildren, be sure to tell them this was the way corporate capitalists responded to the gathering trends of the early 21st century.