Deborah Turness, a former top TV news editor in Britain, will take over as NBC News president in August, at a time when it is looking to turn around the fortunes of its news division.
Turness will replace Steve Capus, who left the network in February. She will report to Patricia Fili-Krushel, chairman of NBCUniversal News Group, who oversees the news unit's business operations. NBC is owned by Comcast Corp.
NBC's broadcast news unit has stumbled of late, largely because its morning show and profit center, "Today," is sagging in the ratings. There are also industrywide questions about the relevance of a nightly newscast, long an NBC strength.
In May, NBC canceled news anchor Brian Williams' TV news magazine, "Rock Center," after lackluster ratings.
"There's a perception that NBC News is slipping. There's been a fair amount of discontent among the affiliates and they're ready to embrace her and meaningful change," said Steve Ridge, a Magid Associates consultant who works with network affiliates of NBC.
The broadcast network's national news program "NBC Nightly News" is averaging 8.169 million total viewers, ahead of "ABC World News" and "CBS Evening News." But ratings for all nightly news broadcasts have been declining for years.
Turness's first job, though, may be to help Fili-Krushel fix the struggling "Today," which Fili-Krushel has called too "complacent."
"Today" has been losing viewers to ABC's "Good Morning America," which snapped NBC's 16-year unbeaten ratings streak last year. Its longtime co-anchor Matt Lauer has been the subject of a series of articles speculating on his future on "Today."
ABC is owned by Walt Disney Co and CBS by CBS Corp .
Turness, 46, has a solid track record in Britain, where she worked as the editor of ITV News since 2004. She was thought to hold her own in a highly competitive environment, up against the much bigger news budgets of the BBC and Rupert Murdoch's Sky News.
"She had some outstanding journalists and she managed to keep them. She is very highly thought of," said Steve Hewlett, a media consultant and former ITV executive.
ITV is Britain's biggest commercial free-to-air broadcaster, although it tends to lose out to the BBC in terms of viewer ratings on the big events. But Turness helped land some coups for ITV, including an interview with Prince William and Kate Middleton following their engagement.
NBC is not the first U.S. news organization to look to the UK for its next leader. The New York Times Co appointed Mark Thompson, a director-general of the BBC, to be chief executive last year. Turness is somewhat familiar with NBC from the partnership ITV had with the U.S. network.
NBC said in a statement that Turness will be responsible for all of NBC News, including breaking news coverage at its bureaus as well as shows including "NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams," the "Today" show, "Meet the Press" and "Dateline."
Compared to the broadcast side, NBC's cable news networks are thriving. CNBC is still far and away the leading business news network. MSNBC has surpassed CNN to become a strong No. 2 among general cable news networks, while closing the gap with longtime ratings leader Fox News, owned by News Corp.
Magid's Ridge said NBC was right to choose an outsider with a global slant who can enact change at the struggling news unit.
"She has a really good outside perspective to be able to look at the product and figure out how to make some bolder moves to shake things up," Ridge said.