At the Digital Marketing Conference

Broadcast Networks Must Still Aim Big

NBC Universal's Jeff Zucker on Why Niche Is No Good for NBC

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NEW YORK ( -- Broadcast-network TV's place in the media landscape is changing, acknowledged NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker this morning, and as such, consumers can probably expect less scripted fare, but more shows aimed at reaching broad swaths of audience.
Jeff Zucker
Jeff Zucker Credit: Scott Gries

"I do think there will be a broadcast network in 10 years. But it will not be like the broadcast network of 1975," said Mr. Zucker, speaking this morning at Ad Age's Digital Marketing Conference, held here March 18-19. He was interviewed by CNBC host and Deutsch Chairman Donny Deutsch.

Noting the success of programs including "Heroes" on NBC, "Grey's Anatomy" on ABC and "American Idol" on Fox, as well as events like the Super Bowl and the Olympics, Mr. Zucker said event programming "will continue to be the backbone of broadcast network TV," which advertisers continue to rely on to reach large groups of audience to launch movies and introduce new products to the marketplace. Broadcast networks need to be careful to avoid going too niche, which is really the strength of cable networks, he said.

His remarks come as the medium is in the midst of a wholesale shift. With more consumers able to get entertainment and information online, TV networks are finding that distribution of content over their own air simply is not enough. They must also attract audiences via the web and digital devices such as cellphones and iPods.

A different upfront event for NBC
In a sign that networks have recognized the new complexity of the ad market, NBC will host an upfront event in mid-May that spotlights more than just the network; instead, it will focus on a range of ad assets from across NBC Universal. CBS plans something similar, talking about its flagship broadcast lineup as well as radio, syndication and outdoor. NBC will still reach out to media buyers on its broadcast prime-time lineup, Mr. Zucker said. But it will do so with smaller meetings (with about 60 to 70 people) held several times with different groups of buyers across the nation.

Mr. Zucker suggested that big broadcast networks like NBC will have to cut back on the number of hours of scripted programming they produce. Noting that Fox and CW don't program 22 hours of original fare per week, he said that accomplishing that feat was getting harder for ABC, NBC and CBS to do and dates back to a time when those three broadcast networks dominated the media landscape.

"It is harder today to put on 22 hours of great scripted programming. The resources are not spread across so many different networks and the costs are prohibitive," he said. In the future, he said, "you're still going to see the great scripted programming, but you're not going to see 22 hours a whole week anymore."
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