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Just a few days before stepping down as CEO of NBC Universal after nearly 25 years with the company, Jeff Zucker responded to questions at the NATPE Conference posed by his brother-in-law, Michael Nathanson of Nomura Securities. Although he cautiously avoided comments on controversial topics such as the resignation(?) of MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann, Zucker's valedictory observations are relevant and important.
"Content is what matters," emphasized Zucker. "Investing in great content wherever it is, is important." Backing it up, Zucker pointed to USA Network, which will have 12 original series next season, up from three a few years ago. More original content is slated for every NBCU owned network, and while he acknowledged the primetime challenges to NBC-TV, he stressed that "content is not just entertainment, but also live news and sports." Retransmission consent value generated by network owned and affiliated stations from cable operators is based more on news and sports programming that's viewed live and that has no back-end online exploitation, he argued. "Broadcast audiences are much larger [than cable] and we should be at the top of the retrans rate card," he said. "There's no more important brand in our entire culture than the NFL."
Zucker expressed continued support for Hulu, which Comcast was forced by regulators to cede voting control over. "I would not change our decision to invest in Hulu," emphasized Zucker. "Hulu has exceeded every expectation we had. It was an attempt to deal with piracy, which we have done. Consumers want programs available to them and if we don't find ways to provide it, piracy will rear its head again. It's also why we put some content online. There's no evidence there is cannibalization, and online is a better experience for our programs than DVDs. There's no fast forward, we can control the advertising load, and we receive valuable data."
Defending NBC-TV's Netflix deal, Zucker explained "we have only one deal for current material [with Netflix]. It's a library play that replaces the back-end syndication deals that went away for some shows. We didn't have a syndication play for that one current show." (Saturday Night Live)
Zucker agrees that "TV Everywhere is in the interest of the entire industry. The next challenge is to make it technically reliable. There's going to be a continuing move toward mobile and towards making content available on different screens. How we get paid is the question and the challenge for the industry. Hopefully we will find a way to monetize the exploitation of content across all the many screens. People are watching content on smart phones and tablets. The challenge is figuring out the business models but you can't put your head in the sand while you do. You cannot change progress and can't put the Genie back in the bottle. The music industry ignored [technology] and got overwhelmed. None of us know for sure where it's all going. Our philosophy has been to try new things. The surest way to go out of business is to pretend the changes [to the business] don't exist."
Also at NATPE, NBC Sports Group Chairman Dick Ebersol introduced Zucker as "the best boss I ever had," adding that Zucker was the best producer in the NBC organization, and that he [Ebersol] was second best. Ebersol was honored with NATPE's highest honor, named after his best friend of many years, NBC programming genius Brandon Tartikoff.
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