Linda Yaccarino leaves NBCUniversal, adding fuel to the Twitter CEO fire

Linda Yaccarino, the woman hotly tipped as the next CEO of Twitter, has not made any statements confirming or denying the rumors. But she is definitely open to work: today, NBCUniversal, where she had been the chairman of its advertising and partnerships group, announced that she is leaving the company, effective immediately.

“It has been an absolute honor to be part of Comcast NBCUniversal and lead the most incredible team," she said in a statement. "We’ve transformed our company and the entire industry—and I am so proud of what we’ve accomplished together, and grateful to my colleagues and mentors, especially Brian Roberts, Mike Cavanagh and the entire NBCU leadership team.”

Mark Marshall, currently president of ad sales and client partnerships, is taking over the role on an interim basis.

The speculation over who would take over the CEO role Twitter kicked off yesterday, when Elon Musk, Twitter's owner and current CEO, announced (on Twitter) that he'd found someone to take over the job, noting that "she will be starting in [about] six weeks."

NBCU's announcement will be seen by many as an indirect confirmation of the reports that Yaccarino will be the executive in question. It may even mean that an official Twitter announcement might come as soon as today.

(The fact that Musk played by at least some semblance of rules here is interesting: Is that the new CEO's influence at play already? NBCU was once a key media partner for Twitter in its heyday, so playing nice here and coordinating with their own media strategy might be a nod to that too.)

Putting an advertising supremo at the top of the company -- Musk says he will stay on as chairman and "CTO, overseeing product, software & sysops" -- is a no-brainer and a smart move, considering how dire things have been for the company on the business front since Musk took over last year.

Applying erratic policies to moderation, verification and other important aspects of Twitter's user environment and laying off an enormous proportion of its staff focused on all of those areas plus others critical to revenue generation (including its sales teams) the site has bled advertisers, and with that, revenues.

Now, the big question is whether it will be able to claw some of that back, and if so how it will do so without falling afoul of Musk, and Musk's accounting priorities.

Musk and Yaccarino already seem to have a bit of a rapport. Last month, Yaccarino interviewed Musk at an advertising conference in Miami, where she seemed complimentary of the business mogul.

"Elon has committed to being accessible to everyone for continual feedback," she said onstage. "He's also opened up himself to also participate in the new transparency and safety rules he posted yesterday. Just remember, freedom of speech does not mean freedom of reach."

She also pointed out to Elon that "the people in this room are [Twitter's] path to profitability." Since its inception, Twitter's most effective way to make money has been advertising, and Musk's attempts to monetize the blue check have not been successful.

We don't know whether the two of them were in negotiations at the time, but Yaccarino seemed motivated to sanitize the Twitter brand, encouraging audience members to voice their concerns to Musk in an Q&A.

Yaccarino could appear like a breath of fresh air compared to Musk, who is known to post weed jokes (and worse) late into the night. She knows the advertising business, and advertisers know her well, too. So, large brands would very likely be more comfortable advertising on a Twitter that she operates, rather than Musk. But per her own Twitter follows list, she seems to interface with the same controversial media brands that Musk promotes and follows, like conservative satire outlet The Babylon Bee (once suspended from Twitter for its transphobic jokes) and Chaya Raichik, who runs the anti-LGBTQ+ social media account Libs of TikTok. This doesn't necessarily mean Yaccarino endorses these views, but it's an interesting data point given the impact Musk's takeover has had on the safety of LGBTQ+ individuals on Twitter. And under Donald Trump's presidency, Yaccarino was appointed to the President's Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition.

"If freedom of speech, as he says, is the bedrock of this country, I'm not sure there's anyone in this room who could disagree with that," Yaccarino said when interviewing Musk. "Could I get a round of applause for that?"

Updated, 5/12/23, 10:15 AM ET with additional context.