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Zucker on Anchors and iPods

12/09/2005 07:00:00 PM Eastern

NBC Universal last week became next in line to make its TV content available via Apple's iTunes, which follows an earlier deal it had made with DirecTV to supply programming for video-on-demand. And while NBC U Television Group President Jeff Zucker is busy trying to anticipate the next step in the medium's evolution, he is also facing ongoing rumors that a longtime asset, Katie Couric, is considering a move to the CBS Evening News. He spoke to B&C's Ben Grossman about what may happen on both fronts.

Many predicted GMA would get closer to Today based on the strength of ABC's prime time lineup—and that's not the case. How have they pulled it off?

The Today show has pulled away surprisingly strongly. The race isn't close at all. I know it's not a sexy story to report, but the Today show is basically as dominant today as it has been in many years.

So is the franchise bigger than Katie Couric?

I've said this forever—I've always believed the Today show is more than the sum of its parts. Nobody stays forever, and I don't mean you to read anything into what I'm saying. At some point, Katie will move on, and so will Matt and Al and Ann, just as Tom Brokaw and Jane Pauley and Bryant Gumbel did, and each time the Today show remained incredibly vibrant and strong. The show is in a complete zone right now, and I feel as confident about it today as I ever have.

Do you think Katie is going to leave?

I certainly hope that she doesn't.

Is this a good time for her to try something new?

I won't talk for Katie. Obviously, she will make her decision in due time. This is all incredibly speculative at this time. There is nothing imminent.

Can you put the Apple iPod deal into perspective?

It is part of our overall digital strategy, something Bob Wright had laid out for us for more than a year now, which is to make our content as ubiquitous as possible, to have it be available on as many screens as possible. We want it to be on all the platforms.

Will you expand your offerings on iTunes?

Over the next couple of weeks, in fact, we will have many more announcements about many more shows there. We see it as a brand-new business, and it will be run like any television network, with new material refreshed and replenished all the time. I don't think there's a limit as to how many shows we can have available.

Do people want to watch 30- and 60-minute shows on smaller screens?

Every week there are 436,000 illegal downloads of Battlestar Galactica. Clearly, someone is downloading it and watching it on a smaller screen. Ever since iTunes went online with video, there have been 500,000 downloads per week. It's pretty clear people want to watch this stuff. Now, given that we are selling Battlestar Galactica for $1.99, there is finally a legitimate model in place.

How much of a priority is the cellphone as a distribution channel?

That's a huge priority for us, and we are obviously looking to use existing NBC content and program it with original programming. Right now we are delivering news and information as well as Jay Leno's monologue, and we are looking to deliver original content as well. It will be a big part of our world.

How do you find out how kids are viewing content?

We do a lot of market research, and it's something that's critically important for us to understand. By the way, I just have to go home and look at what my 5- and 7-year-old are doing. That's the cheapest focus group there is.

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