One Year Into Susan Rovner And Frances Berwick’s Tenure, NBC Named Most Watched Network

By Cheryl Robinson

When it comes to diversity and inclusion in media, it’s more than producing diverse programming. It’s about having unique voices and perspectives behind-the-scenes throughout the various networks. In 2020, NBCUniversal took a risk and reorganized its television networks and streaming platforms, creating a more centralized structure that will help drive a unified strategy across its content businesses. The group consists of horizontally integrated business units that share resources and staff, reporting directly to Mark Lazarus, Chairman of NBCUniversal Television and Streaming. 

An important element of the strategy was the appointment of Frances Berwick, chairman, Entertainment Networks, and Susan Rovner, chairman, Entertainment Content. As a result, for the first time in NBC’s nearly 100-year history, two women are at the network’s helm. While both women hold distinct responsibilities under their designated purviews, they work hand-in-hand to maximize scale and reach across their portfolios, including NBC’s broadcast network and six cable channels: Bravo, E!, Oxygen, SYFY, Universal Kids and USA. Additionally, Rovner also oversees Peacock content. After one year into their reign, NBC was officially the most-watched network in America from 2020-21. Additionally, NBC won Fall TV 2021 premiere week by the largest margin in ratings history against its competition. 

“I do believe that us being women, and the way that we get along is a huge secret sauce of why Francis [Berwick] and I work so well together,” Rovner states. “There is a respect of two women and a female partnership.” Berwick adds, “We have many of the same values. We are very focused on creating, probably as important as achieving business goals and creating great content, we want to create a great culture that people are working in, and that is absolutely paramount and critical.”

Berwick began her media career at Britain’s Channel 4, heading international television distribution and licensing. She then transitioned over to Bravo, serving as vice president of programming. After NBC acquired the network, she stayed on board, becoming general manager. She oversaw a 33% increase in original content and led her team to four consecutive years of record-breaking successes across all ratings and financial metrics. And then later became president.

She has pivoted within the NBCU portfolio networks with roles at Universal Kids, E!, Oxygen and Lifestyle Network before stepping into her current role as chairman. She now leads program strategy and business operations for the NBC broadcast network and NBCU’s six cable entertainment networks.

NBCU first appointed Berwick as they vetted candidates for the other position. Rovner’s background proved a good fit for the role. She started her career as an agent at ICM before working at a television movie production company. From there, she transitioned to ABC as an executive director. Rovner then pivoted to Warner Bros. Television (WBTV). Her 20-year stint began in the drama department. She then oversaw development, where she helped develop the long-running Cold CaseThe O.C. and the critically acclaimed Everwood. She quickly rose through the ranks to co-president of Warner Horizon Scripted Television. 

“Warner Bros. offered a leadership conference for women,” Rovner shares. “It was there that I first heard of something called the Tiara Syndrome. It’s when you keep your head down and you work really hard, hoping that someone’s going to notice. They’re going to take the tiara, and they’re going to put it on your head saying, ‘you’re queen.’ But the truth is that doesn’t happen. What I learned I needed to do was pick my head up, look around and ask for what I wanted. … When I came back from that leadership conference, I made sure that everyone at the company knew that my goal was to be president of Warner Bros.”

Before joining the NBCU family, Rovner reached her goal of becoming president of WBTV. She spearheaded its creative expansion to develop series for on-demand and streaming services while increasing its premium and basic cable output. Now, as chairman at NBCU, she leads creative strategy for original entertainment content across the network’s broadcast, cable and streaming platforms. 

Berwick and Rovner knew of one another but did not know each other very well. They each complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Having clearly defined roles helps them work together to bring the vision to fruition. Additionally, they have developed trust for one another, rely on strong communication skills and admire one another’s passion for the work that they’re doing. 

As Berwick and Rovner continue to evolve in their new positions, they share the following advice:

  • Trust who you are and follow your instincts. Be open to the different opportunities in front of you and not be afraid to go after what you want. 
  • Research as much as possible before pivoting. The more knowledge you have of a position or company or situation, the better apt you are to make a decision.
  • Take calculated risks. Forcing yourself out of your comfort zone will help you advance to the next level. 

“Sometimes you have to exercise the muscle where you’re telling yourself to take the 60,000-foot view because the default is often to think that you can do the job faster yourself, especially if it’s something that you’ve done before,” Berwick concludes. “It is something I find I sometimes have to tell myself, ‘Don’t do it and don’t be prescriptive.’ No one is going to do it in the same way that you might have, but they still may be doing it in a way that works or that maybe better.”