When the first –and only–female distribution chief at a major studio lasts for 18 years at her job, she’s damned good at it. Well, Universal Pictures distribution president Nikki Rocco is finally stepping down at the end of 2014 after 47 years at the studio–it’s the only place she ever worked. She’s a lifer, something that doesn’t happen that much anymore. (The other studio distribution player is Warner Bros. International exec Veronika Kwan Vandenberg; Paramount marketing czar Megan Colligan also weighs in on special distribution strategies.)
While Rocco survived many management changes, her most recent boss, co-chairman Adam Fogelson, was let go last year, leaving Donna Langley as solo Universal Pictures chair. Now NBCUni exec Jeff Shell is chairman of Universal Filmed Entertainment; he’ll likely move up her lieutenant Nicholas Carpou. It will be fascinating to see how NBC Universal owner Comcast –which has made a bid to buy Time Warner Cable–navigates into the digital distribution future. More than any other studio, this cable giant is in a position to make waves.
After she leaves Rocco will consult on distribution for Universal. She began her career at the studio in 1967, while she was a 17-year-old high school senior. I’ve worked with her for years: she was a straight shooter who knew her stuff. She has long believed strongly about using the entire calendar year to release films, rather than going with conventional release corridors. In 2013, Universal celebrated its best year ever at the domestic box office, with total grosses of $1.42 billion. Recent releases “Lone Survivor,” “Non-Stop” and the latest “Fast & Furious” all over-performed.