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The Jeff Zucker Farewell Tour made another stop Monday morning in his hometown of Miami, host city to the National Association of Television Programming Executives conference. The outgoing NBC Universal (NYSE: GE) CEO wouldn’t say much on the controversy du jour — the sudden departure of Keith Olbermann from MSNBC — but he did defend his track record on the digital side of the business, including his decisions to participate in Hulu and do deals with Netflix.
In a Q&A with Nomura Securities analyst Michael Nathanson — who noted in his introduction that he happens to be Zucker’s brother-in-law — Zucker laid out the rationale for his digital strategy. “I don’t know that it’s been perfect, but we experimented and I feel glad about what we’ve done,” he said.
For his role in Hulu, which NBCU launched alongside News Corp. (NSDQ: NWS), Zucker described the online video hub as a necessity to keep consumers away from piracy and to extract more value from catch-up viewing than via DVR, thanks to better control of the advertising experience. As for Netflix, he noted that there was only one deal the company made”>deal the company made with Netflix for current programming — Saturday Night Live — and that pacts with the online service made sense for programming that would slip through the cracks in a weakened syndication market.
Zucker also noted that news and sports were still types of programming that broadcast could differentiate itself with minimal value on Hulu or Netflix (NSDQ: NFLX). The value of live programming was something Zucker returned to again and again during the Q&A. He touted it as one of the key values of the broadcast business, which makes it deserving of top dollar from cable operators in retransmission consent negotiations. He also cited news and sports — where Zucker first started in his 24.5 years at NBCU — as the source of his most cherished memories in his run at the conglomerate. He shared it in an answer to a question about where he might be headed next, which might just offer a clue as to what part of the business will seek out his next opportunity though he’s far from a decision.
Said Zucker, “Friday will be my last day and on Monday I have no idea what I’m going to do.”