Zucker: No Guarantee Online TV Will Stay Free

NBC could eventually start charging for online streams of its TV shows, according to CEO Jeff Zucker in an extensive interview published by The Wall Street Journal (subscription required). One of the first issues brought up was the question of how much content should be available for free online, to which Zucker responded by lamenting that broadcasters can’t make money by running repeats of existing content on their networks anymore, adding:

“We have to figure out how we are going to pay for this quality content… I do not think that it is a foregone conclusion that content should be free on the Internet.”

It’s worth noting that NBC Universal does not only offer full episodes of its shows on its own site for free, but that the company also owns 32 percent of Hulu. NBC Universal announced a joint venture with Comcast last December, to merge with the cable company’s programming assets — a deal that is currently under review by the FCC. Hulu’s fate as well as Comcast’s plans for Internet TV have been one of the key issues at the center of this review process, a fact that Zucker acknowledged in the interview by saying that there is “a lot of interest” in online video.

However, he also seemed to warn of putting too many restrictions on the way the merged entity is going to handle these issues, calling online TV “such a nascent business,” and something that everyone was still figuring out. Zucker expressed confidence that the government would be aware of this as well.

That’s not exactly how others have viewed the deal. Senator Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee, recently demanded that NBC Universal sell its stake in Hulu as a condition for the merger to go through.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Robert Scoble.

Related content on GigaOm Pro (sub req’d): A Closer Look at Comcast’s NBC Universal Acquisition