Zucker talks about failure and the future

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Jeff Zucker admitted disappointment in Martha Stewart's prime-time ratings and said NBC was wrong to schedule two editions of the "Apprentice" franchise at the same time. He also played up the highlights of an otherwise tough year in which the flagship network he heads as president of NBC Universal Television Group fell from first to fourth place and took a $1 billion revenue hit in the upfront. Mr. Zucker talked to Ad Age's Abbey Klaassen about whether consumers will pay for NBC's prime-time programs, where advertisers fit in the VOD model and the promising comedy "My Name is Earl."

Advertising Age: How many consumers do you think will be willing to pay for NBC shows on demand?

Jeff Zucker: Clearly that's what we're going to find out. If you look at the music model, they've been willing to pay for songs. One thing they didn't want is the whole album. They're willing to pay if they want to watch it or listen to it. There's reason to believe if we make it available to them, they'll pay for the convenience. ... This is recognition of the fact that the way people are consuming TV is changing and we have to change along with it or get left behind.

AA: Is there an advertising model within VOD and, if so, what does it look like?

Mr. Zucker: Our offering is commercial-free and we think that's an incentive to consumers who will want to pay 99¢ to catch up on a program. I wouldn't rule out an advertising model, but it's just not in the cards at this time.

AA: How are ad-industry relations right now? Do you think advertisers too gleefully took advantage of the situation you were in at the upfront?

Mr. Zucker: No, I don't think so. Advertisers are our most important customers and we have to be good partners with them and deliver what they want. I hope our relationship is strong and continues to be strong.

AA: What's your take on Martha and Donald's public feuding and Mark Burnett's charge that the shows have split "The Apprentice" audience?

Mr. Zucker: If we could do it over again, we wouldn't have two cycles on at the same time. We're actually pleased with how The Donald's version has done. ... Obviously we're disappointed in the ratings of the Martha version.

AA: NBC has said it might take more than a year to get viewing levels back on track. How far out do you think that is and what do you do to rebuild your image in the meantime?

Mr. Zucker: These things don't turn around overnight and we're looking at a two- or three-year turnaround. You start with one show at a time. We've clearly done that with "My Name is Earl" and "The Office" behind it. ...That's the key.

AA: Will we see "Earl" move to Thursday?

Mr. Zucker: Ah . . . we're certainly looking at all our options.

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