“Never pass up the opportunity to say nothing,” Pappy Albrecht used to tell us. It’s obvious NBC Universal president and CEO Jeff Zucker never had a sit-down with my dad; nary a week goes by without Zucker making some accusation, proclamation or bloviation. For someone running a fourth-place network, he should maybe spend less time in front of a microphone and more time tending to his peacock. Here are just some of his choice bits from the last six months.
While on a panel at Davos this week, Zucker called on the mobile industry to cut better deals for entertainment companies. He went on to say that the mobile media opportunities are “…actually not that important.” Despite his downplaying of the mobile market, NBC will provide 2,200 hours of live wireless coverage of this summer’s Olympics.
Our Take: Our take is actually that of Fortune’s senior editor, David Kirkpatrick, which is that 2,000 hours of content is a lot for something that’s “not that important.”
At its CES booth this year, NBC hosted a panel discussion on digital piracy in which AT&T talked about monitoring your traffic, a solution which Zucker was all for back in October of 2007, when he called on ISPs, universities and home networking manufacturers to install filtering technology. According to text from Zucker’s speech, filtering was the “best shot at relieving clogged networks by keeping copyright-infringing content off the networks.” Zucker also wants Congress to create dedicated IP enforcement bureaus, saying, “We need, across the board, to move IP enforcement up the agenda of the federal government.”
Our Take: Yes, piracy is a big concern, but who wants AT&T (or Comcast, or Time Warner) deciding what’s acceptable traffic? No one, that’s who.
NBCU’s squabble with Apple last year was very messy and very public, and resulted in shows like Heroes getting yanked off iTunes. The fight initially centered around pricing flexibility (Apple wouldn’t budge), but then Zucker came out and said that NBC should have gotten a cut of Apple’s iPod sales. In October Variety quoted Zucker as saying, “Apple sold millions of dollars worth of hardware off the back of our content, and made a lot of money.” He went on to say that, “They did not want to share in what they were making off the hardware or allow us to adjust pricing.”
But then Steve Jobs announced the new Apple TV and movie rentals at Macworld this year and suddenly all animosity was just water under the bridge. AllThingsD had the best summation in John Paczkowski’s “Quoted” blog post:
“Apple has destroyed the music business–in terms of pricing–and if we don’t take control, they’ll do the same thing on the video side.”
–NBC Universal chief executive Jeff Zucker, Oct. 28, 2007
“We’ve said all along that we admire Apple, that we want to be in business with Apple. We’re great fans of Steve Jobs.”
–NBC Universal chief executive Jeff Zucker, Jan. 20, 2008
Our Take: Kneel before
Zod Jobs, Zucker! Just kiddin’. Actually this will be an interesting one to watch. NBC shows are still not available on iTunes, and with Hulu coming out of beta in the first quarter of this year, who needs Apple?
“Instead of making the 25 pilots that we have historically made on the comedy and drama side, now we’ll make five or 6 six something like that,” said Zucker. “And we’ll have the same number of scripted programs. But instead of piloting all of them, we’ll just have the executives, you know, go on their gut. Frankly that’s what they’re there for.”
Zucker is also contemplating ditching the upfronts, in which advertisers get a look at the upcoming season in order to plan their TV ad buys. “In light of the changing business environment, we are looking very seriously at not doing the extravaganza part of the upfront process,” Zucker said, conceding that the upfronts might have outlived their usefulness.
Our Take: Well, being new teevee fiends here, we’re siding with Zucker on this one. The TV process is in good need of a swift kick in the pants. And with NBC still in the dumps, ratings-wise, why not take a risk?
Now, maybe Zucker’s constant headline-grabbing bluster is just the kind of posturing he feels is necessary as he works backroom angles for better deals with mobile carriers or Apple or advertisers. It’s just that he’s grabbing more headlines for saying things than doing things, like turning NBC around.