By Ronald Grover
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Universal Pictures Vice Chairman Rick Finkelstein, the studio's chief operating officer for 12 years, decided to retire, sources told Reuters, a move that will allow Comcast Corp to put its imprint on leadership of the studio it acquired in 2009 along with parent NBC Universal.
Universal hired Spencer Stuart's Jim Citrin this spring to find a new COO to replace Finkelstein, according to two people with knowledge of the search.
Comcast overhauled top executives at its NBC TV operations soon after making the acquisition, but resisted making changes at the movie studio.
Finkelstein will spend the final two years of his contract working on special projects for Ron Meyer, head of the Universal Studios unit that oversees the studio and theme park operations, those people told Reuters.
Universal Pictures Chairman Adam Fogelson will make the hire, although NBC Universal CEO Steve Burke, a Comcast executive vice president, will have input on the selection. NBCU, the studio and Finkelstein had no comment.
Universal has had a mixed record since Comcast acquired a 51 percent stake. This year, the studio had a blockbuster with "Dr. Suess' The Lorax", which collected domestic ticket sales of $212 million, and "Safe House" with over $126 million.
It ranks third among Hollywood studios with a 14.6 percent share of the box office this year, according to Box Office Mojo. It released the mega-dud "Battleship", which cost $209 million to make, but has collected only $60 million domestically and $295 million worldwide. Studios get roughly half the ticket sales.
NBC Universal will record a "negative quarter," Comcast CEO Brian Roberts told an investor conference in May, as a result of "Battleship" and the comedy "The Five Year Engagement", which also did poorly. Roberts called "Battleship" "an unfortunate, large miss."
No other changes are expected in Universal's leadership. Burke extended Meyer's contract last year through 2015. Folgeson's contract and that of co-chair Donna Langely was extended to 2014.
Finkelstein, 62, is expected to help in the transition while he works with Meyer, according to a person with knowledge of the decision.
His responsibilities include overseeing the studio's theatrical and home video distribution. He is also the studio's representative on the board of the Motion Picture Association of America, the industry trade group.
The Universal vice-chairman was paralyzed in a 2004 skiing accident in Aspen and works from a motorized wheelchair. Finkelstein learned to ski again in 2011, an achievement that is the subject of a 40-minute film, "The Movement", narrated by Robert Redford and now being shown in film festivals.
(Editing by Andre Grenon and David Gregorio)