CES: Cable Ratings Drop Surprised Burke

NBCU making bets on digital while investing in TV content
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While NBCUniversal didn’t expect cable network ratings to decline as fast as they have, CEO Steve Burke says he expects broadcast and cable TV to remain a good business for the foreseeable future.

But Burke, speaking at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas Thursday, said that it was important for media companies to make investments in digital companies.

“We’ve made plenty of mistakes and we’ll make more but one won’t be making bets and investing,” Burke said.

“I think the ecosystem is going to remain very healthy. You need to make more bets on the digital side, but keep making great television content.” NBCU and Comcast hav made investments in companies including Freewheel, Vox and Buzzfeed.

NBC has programming like the Olympics that will air on its TV and cable networks. But it will also be having TV reporters from Buzzfeed doing interviews with athletes the TV people won’t get to.

“Those interview will be very different” from those that have appeared on NBC’s Olympic coverage. They could help make younger millennials viewers more interested in the Olympics than they otherwise might be, he said.

Burke noted that in a media environment that gives consumers more content and more choices, it’s hard to get people to watch reruns. He said DVRs have probably had a bigger impact than Netflix. Either way that’s hurt the cable networks business.

Meanwhile, broadcast is making more money than a few years ago by making money in different ways, including international syndication, SVOC and direct distribution to digital outlets. Those activities generate hundreds of millions of dollars for NBCU, Burke said.

“For as long as I’ve been around the media business, there’s always been something that was going to put someone out of business,” Burke said, whether it was satellite wrecking cable, home video turning the lights out on movie theaters.

Despite a more competitive atmosphere, he said the traditional broadcast and cable television business remains a potent advertising media, he said.

“Television advertising will grow—maybe not dramatically but it will grow for many years,” he said. “If you’re a marketer—and we’re a big marketer spending hundreds of millions—it’s unthinkable that you don’t use television. You’re not going to launch Jurassic World or a new car or a consumer product without television.”

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