UBS Media Conference: Zucker Eyes “Upside” In Light Of Comcast Deal

Speaking at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference in New York Monday, NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker focused on his company’s upside in light of a deal by cable giant Comcast to acquire a controlling stake.

But Zucker acknowledged problems at NBC Entertainment, which have seen the once dominant broadcast network slipping to fourth place.

“Certainly on the NBC Entertainment side we probably have nothing but upside going forward,” Zucker said. “We have not gotten the full credit at NBC Universal because the first three letters of our name have not performed in recent years.”

Zucker also addressed the broadcasting business in general as well as local media, both of which have been hit especially hard in the recession.

“There is an issue with the broadcasting model that exists whether you are in first place or fourth place,” he said, echoing News Corp. COO Chase Carey’s call to seek retrans fees. “The fact is the cable model is a superior model to the broadcast model, we have to find another revenue stream to go along with the ad supported model.”

Zucker added that the NBC local stations group appears to be pulling out of its rut, ready to post its first year over year growth in more than five years this quarter.

“It has been tough in the last couple years in the local television business side,” he said. “[The 2010 Elections], Olympics, and a better ad environment hopefully means a much better year going forward.”

He also said the company hopes to do for NBC Sports, which will soon include cable networks Versus and The Golf Channel, what it was able to do with its news and information properties, while also downplaying expectations.

“ESPN is the best in class, nobody should think that this is going to be another ESPN, but if we can be 20% of what they have built at ESPN it will be a great success,” he said.

On the digital side, Zucker says that he and Comcast chief Brian Roberts are on the same page when it comes to digital distribution. Saying that combating piracy “is one of the main reasons behind Hulu,” Zucker added that media companies will need to begin experimenting with other digital business models, including pay and subscriptions.

He also referred to one of his most quoted comments from 2008’s NATPE conference: “We cannot trade analog dollars to digital pennies,” a figure he revised to “digital dimes” at the Digital Hollywood Conference in March.

“We are making progress, but there isn’t a denomination between a dime and a quarter, I would give you a quarter but I would need a little change,” Zucker quipped.