It looks like the departure of NBC Universal president and CEO Jeff Zucker -- or at least the timing of it -- is now in the hands of the Federal Communications Commission and/or the Justice Department.
Zucker said he will be leaving NBCU as soon as the merger with Comcast is a done deal.
Justice, which is reviewing the deal as well, usually goes first, making the call on whether there are any antitrust issues that need fixing, but Justice does not talk about its review, and won't even officially confirm their investigations.
The FCC's review goes beyond antitrust to look at the effect on the public-interest. The commission's current informal shot clock on the merger has a target date of completion as Nov. 24, the day before Thanksgiving. That would definitely be a day of thanks for Comcast, which wants the deal done as soon as possible.
Comcast continues to say it believes the deal will be done by year-end.
Asked this week if the review could push into next year, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski was noncommittal, saying the agency was working diligently. He was not committing to the shot clock, or any other definite date, which is unofficial. "With transactions like this, we have an obligation to operate efficiently and also tackle the significant issues it raises," he said.
Of course, there is also the possibility that Justice or the FCC could impose potential deal-breaker conditions like, say, spin-offs of the stations or regional sports networks in markets where they overlap, or public-interest conditions that Comcast could not live with. Either scenario is considered unlikely, however.
Zucker and Comcast chairman Brian Roberts became a familiar tag team in Washington in 2010 as they testified in front of various committees in defense of the deal.
Andrew Schwartzman of Media Access Project opposes the merger and did his own sparring with Zucker during the hearings. At the time, Schwartzman said the merger would be the biggest media marriage since Lucy and Desi. Zucker countered that he only wished for those days, with three networks dividing up the audience.
Schwartzman said Friday he did not think Zucker's announcement would have any impact on the merger proceedings, suggesting it had already been factored in. "I think it was pretty clear that his days were numbered," he told Multichannel News.
An FCC official declined to comment on whether the executive's departure would have any effect on its vetting of the deal.