NBC's Zucker: 'We Haven't Done a Good Enough Job'

At UBS Media Week: Comcast Better Fit for Network Than General Electric

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- NBC Universal has not done a great job at programming its NBC broadcast network, but its top executive believes the vaunted Peacock could revive its fortunes under new Comcast Corp. ownership.

Jeff Zucker
Jeff Zucker Credit: NBC
While NBC Universal is only a relatively small part of General Electric, and not really part of the industrial conglomerate's core operations, under Comcast there could be more harmony between assets, Jeff Zucker, CEO of NBC Universal, said during remarks at the annual UBS media conference today. "Comcast is a media company and they have a commitment to the media business," he said, while GE has long had a number of other businesses to maintain in addition to NBC Universal.

While Mr. Zucker took some credit for seeing viability in cable and building his company's exposure to it, he admitted that the NBC broadcast network has in recent years slumped when it comes to building a solid prime-time entertainment lineup. "We have not done a very good job on the broadcast side of NBC Entertainment," he said.

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He said he hoped his company would be able to reverse its situation over a period of a few years. Already, he said, NBC Universal has instilled a new management team at its NBC Entertainment unit and has committed to reinvest in its entertainment programming. The company "under-invested in development in the last few years," he said. "I think that was a mistake." He added later: "It pains me greatly that we haven't done a good enough job."

His remarks came just hours after executives from Comcast Corp., which is slated to take a majority interest in NBC Universal should the deal win regulatory approval, indicated they see value in owning NBC and its local stations.

Comcast Chief Operating Officer Steve Burke said the Philadelphia cable player has never envisioned selling off NBC, despite speculation to the contrary in the days leading up to the company's recent acquisition agreement. He also said "it's hard to imagine" running NBC without maintaining local stations, which help media companies reach specific populations. And he also scotched an idea -- bandied about by pundits and even some NBC executives -- that NBC might one day operate as a cable network, rather than a broadcast one. Such a theory is "overly simplistic," Mr. Burke said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Zucker said Comcast oversight offered NBC Universal increased opportunity, such as the chance to do for sports what the company has done for news: centralizing production of content that can run across several different outlets. While Mr. Zucker said he didn't envision NBC Sports becoming the equal of "best in breed" ESPN, he does see a chance to grow the operations.

Mr. Zucker said he believed securing regulatory approval could take as much as nine to twelve months. He also said that he had been offered -- and had accepted -- the position of CEO of NBC Universal under Comcast, and would report to Mr. Burke upon completion of the transaction.

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