JEFF ZUCKER CITES 'PROBLEMS WITH PRIME TIME'

Promax/BDA Gathering Assured Other NBC Assets in 'Fantastic Shape'

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Speaking to a crowd of TV promotions executives at this year’s Promax/BDA conference, Jeffrey Zucker, NBC Universal Television Group president, admitted it had been a “very tough” year for NBC, which lost 17% of its audience during the 2004-05 season.

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“We expected to suffer,” he told the annual gathering at the New York Marriot Marquis. “It was a little more than we expected to suffer. That’s OK, we can deal with it.”

Promax/BDA is a global association of senior executives, producers and designers involved in the creation of advertising, graphics and marketing materials for TV, radio and digital media in 60 countries.

Topic of discussion
The General Electric Co.-owned network was a topic of interest and discussion because it has dropped from first place to fourth in the much-coveted 18- to 49-year-old demographic.

NBC’s programming plans for the new season starting in September were not well received by advertisers, resulting in a drop in ad commitments of around $900 million, from $2.8 billion in 2004 to $1.9 billion this year. Mr. Zucker told the Promax audience that the tough experience was the price NBC was forced to pay after a decade on top. He added that the whole point of the merger with Vivendi Universal, which finalized last May, was to soften such blows. “The other assets are in fantastic shape; the cable entertainment and the theme park ... can help us withstand the current problems with prime time.”

The assets Mr. Zucker referred to include cable networks Bravo, Sci-Fi Channel and USA Network and five theme parks, including Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Orlando.

Touting the fall offering
While offering congratulations to ABC on its strong comeback -- the network was previously in fourth place -- Mr. Zucker added that few people could have predicted the success of that networks hits, which included Desperate Housewives and Lost. Mr. Zucker plugged a number of NBC’s new shows, including My Name Is Earl, an offbeat comedy that is scheduled to air Tuesdays at 9 p.m. He also plugged producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s first military drama for NBC, E-Ring, starring Benjamin Bratt and Dennis Hopper.

On Joey, the sitcom that inherited Friends' coveted 8 p.m. Thursday slot, Mr. Zucker said: “Obviously we were disappointed against the expectations of it. ... It didn’t do as well as we’d hoped. It was good, it just wasn’t great. We hope it can continue to find its legs. There is still a lot of goodwill for that character.”

'Today' show resurgence
Turning to Today, NBC’s highly profitable morning news franchise, Mr. Zucker was frustrated that the media had not reported the program's ratings resurgence in recent weeks with the same enthusiasm as earlier stories about the shrinking gap between Today and its ABC rival Good Morning America, which runs a close second.

According to Nielsen Media Research numbers provided by NBC, the gap between the two shows was 45,000 viewers for the week of May 9. It has risen steadily every week since then to 538,000 for the week of June 6. Today's recent guests have been Prime Minister Tony Blair of the U.K., U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and Jennifer “Runaway Bride” Wilbanks, while ABC recently bagged Brad Pitt.

Addressing the ratings gap, Mr. Zucker said Today had not been produced “at the top of its game.” Former Today executive producer Tom Touchet was ousted a few months ago and replaced by Jim Bell, a former Olympic sports producer.

Sports coverage
With coverage of the National Football League returning to NBC, Mr. Zucker said: “Football delivers the audience year in year out. Sports is going to play a critical role as NBC Entertainment is in rebuilding phase.” Mr. Zucker also pointed out the Winter Olympics next year would also play a role in helping buoy the network.

Discussing new ways of delivering content, Mr. Zucker said there would be a need for original programming to drive new distribution platforms. “I log on to MSNBC.com to get my news before I turn on the TV or look at a paper or anything. That [new distribution platforms] is the single-biggest priority we have in front of us.”

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