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Zucker Talks Cutting Back Network Primetime

Complete Coverage: UBS Global Media and Communications Conference

UPDATE: Jay Leno Taking Over 10 P.M. On NBC

Fresh from

a mini-merger of NBC's studio and network operations

last week, NBC Universal chief executive Jeff Zucker indicated on Monday that more changes were on the way. Among the possibilities: Fewer nights or hours of primetime programming on NBC.

"We do have to continue to rethink what a broadcast network is today. Do we have to be what we've always been? We used to run movies on Sundays, we used to put original programming on Saturday nights. It used to be the only place where you got sports,” Zucker said during the keynote address at the UBS Global Media Summit in New York. “We have to rethink what the broadcast network is."

Zucker's address raised the possibility of a smaller NBC schedule with reduced hours.  "Can we continue to program 22 hours of primetime? Three of our competitors don't. Can we continue to program seven nights a week? One of our competitors doesn't."

Zucker also hinted that the affiliate model was due for an update given that their business models were some 25 to 30 years old. "I don't want to go out of business," he said underscoring the need to act quickly.

He said everything was on the table -- as further change is a matter of survival for the TV business. "If we don't (change), the broadcast networks will end up like the newspaper business or worse, like the car companies," he said. 

Zucker pointed out that NBC Universal had

already become much less reliant on advertising

. Over the past six years, NBC has moved from a 90% reliance on ads to just less than 50%. Still it takes a "steel" stomach to transform legacy models. He said

recent lay-offs

were part of a reengineering of the company that emphasized "safety first."

Despite the morning of dour ad forecasts, Wall Street investors listened hard for any positive news over a steak and asparagus lunch. Mr. Zucker painted a rosy picture of double-digit growth at the cable networks, which account for 60% of NBC Universal's operating profit. Universal Pictures contributed 20%, while a further 15% is derived from broadcast assets that include NBC and Telemundo and their local stations. "80 % of the company is in good shape," he said, acknowledging the poor fall that NBC network has had.

While the TV scatter market has slowed, Zucker expressed surprise that the digital ad market had "come to a standstill."  He added that the industry's hopes for digital as a big driver of profit have been largely dashed.  "I don't think we'll be able to call digital a big growth engine and we have to be honest about that."

He did however praise the success of profitable video site,, owned in partnership with News Corp.

In a brief Q&A with press after the presentation, Zucker said the 2009 upfront would look like last year's so-called "in-front presentation." He reiterated that the network would order up more pilots than it had done earlier this year.