Interview: Part I: Jeff Zucker, NBCU: iVillage ‘Great Asset We Probably Paid Too Much For’


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For NBC Universal (NYSE: GE), the analog buck and the digital dime both stop at the desk of Jeff Zucker. From that desk on the 52nd floor of 30 Rock, the NBCU CEO can see a wall full of flat-screen monitors, an expansive view of Manhattan and, on a Tuesday in June, a vase of hot pink peonies in full bloom. The digital future? That’s another story.

If 2009 stays on track, Zucker says the company will make more than $1 billion from all of its digital assets (including mobile, VOD, DVD sales, etc.); based on 2008 revenues, that would be a little more than 6 percent. He won’t get more detailed than that, but, based on other conversations I’ve had within the company, if you zeroed in on how much NBCU makes directly from selling online advertising, it probably would be half that. It needs to be much more if it’s going to come close to replacing the money leaking away from TV because of digital and other shifts in the marketplace. At the same time, NBCU has invested heavily in digital, in waves that date as far back as ill-fated and include the acquisition of iVillage in 2006 for $600 million.

Zucker sat down with paidContent for a lengthy conversation about NBCU’s digital strategy. In the first of two installments of edited excerpts, he talks about NBCU’s search for that strategy, the results of his decision to take an iTunes time out, his take on iVillage and NBCU’s future acquisition plans, and whether or not digital can be profitable for the GE unit. Part II: Jeff Zucker: Live Streaming Top Events Devalues Olympics

Staci D. Kramer: What was that moment when you said this — the internet — is something that’s going to change the way our industry is?

Jeff Zucker: It was probably when Lazy Sunday exploded on YouTube because I think that was the real recognition that we as a company were not properly set up to exploit something like that and yet the demand for it was intense.

NBC had done a lot of things digitally before that but it seemed over the years that as many different strategies as people tried, NBC never nailed it.

Don’t forget. NBC had Snap. Had we not given up on Snap, the fate of the company might have been unbelievably different.

How so?

Who’s to say that Snap wasn’t Google?

I’m sure there are people over at *Disney* who wonder if Go was Google.

Snap was way ahead of its time.

Was the plug pulled too soon?

Obviously, in retrospect, yes but that’s unfair to say. It was just really ahead of its time.

In the last few years, NBC has changed digital strategies several times.

We’ve been searching for the right digital strategy. I think that we feel much better today about what that digital strategy is than we ever have.

What makes you feel that way?

I think we’ve honed in on what we want to do. Our digital strategy is to make our content as available as possible on any platform and to grow it organically rather than by acquisition and to center it around the entertainment side and be as strong on the news and information side as anyone in the business through all of our outlets

You’ve been through the acquisition phase (and you say you

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