Although Jeff Zucker, outgoing president and CEO of NBC
Universal, doesn't expect broadcast network schedules to disappear anytime
soon, "we're clearly heading into world where content will matter more than
schedule," he said in a conversation with Mad
Money host Jim Cramer at The Paley Center for Media's 2010 International
Council meeting in New York Thursday morning.
NBC primetime has of course had its scheduling woes, most
notably its failed experiment placing Jay Leno at 10 p.m. last year. "I don't
regret what we did, I regret that we didn't get it right," Zucker said. "I
think there's a distinction." He said the network wouldn't have made the move
without Leno, but they had him, so they decided to take a risk.
If 10 p.m. was the worst thing that happened during Zucker's
tenure, he names building NBCU's cable business into the backbone of the company
as the best. Cramer pointed out that if NBCU didn't have its legacy broadcast
network, it would have the best numbers in the business, thanks to the strength
of its cable properties like USA Network, Bravo and CNBC. "Primetime is a small
part of the company but a large part of the perception of the company," Zucker
said, conceding that the network must do more to improve its standing.
Asked about controversy over MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann's
recent suspension Zucker said, "We're not giving enough credit to the viewers,"
saying that they know the difference between straight news and opinion. "But we
have guidelines in place and you have to follow them, if you don't, something
has to be done," he said. "It's about transparency, and telling the viewer what
While MSNBC has created personalities like Olbermann, an
audience member asked Zucker if we will start to see the disintegration of TV
with programmers going straight to the Web, to which he agreed. "What matters
more than anything now is brand," Zucker said. "In this world where everyone
thinks they're a journalist, what matters is credibility." As to whether it's
possible to create a brand without a bully pulpit on television he said, "Don't
discount the ability of someone to create a brand online, although it will be
much harder," adding that you really need both.
As to what Zucker will do after he steps down as CEO, Cramer
asked if he wants to go back to being a journalist (Zucker headed The Harvard Crimson newspaper in
college). "Maybe. That was my first love, and I've never strayed far from that
in my mind. It's a noble profession." As for politics? "Let me give you a
political answer. I'd think about it."
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