“We are just living in an incredibly different world,” Zucker said during a question-and-answer session at Harvard Business School’s 2008 Entertainment and Media Conference Wednesday.
Pointing out that few people in the audience of students, faculty and media gathered there likely watch the 6:30 p.m. newscast, Zucker said NBC News is lucky to have a cable-news outlet in MSNBC, adding that more and more content will continue to migrate there and to MSNBC.com.
“The definition of NBC News is really changing,” he added, “and it’s becoming more MSNBC and MSNBC.com.”
He also took print journalists to task for “disproportionately” harping on downsizing at NBC News in the face of declining viewership for broadcast news in general.
“When we try to evolve NBC News, a lot of people want to write about that,” he said, suggesting that newspaper reporters’ seeming obsession with the declining fortunes of the TV-news business was a bit of schadenfreude.
“The thing they want is for the [TV-news] business to die faster [than the newspaper business], because that’s what makes them feel better,” he added.
Zucker also mused on News Corp.’s $ 5 billion acquisition of Dow Jones and its crown jewel, The Wall Street Journal.
“Obviously, Dow Jones is a fantastic company,” he said. “Whether it’s worth the price News Corp. paid for it, time will tell. It’s easier to pay that price when the only shareholder you care about is the one you see in the mirror every day,” he quipped, referring to News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch.
He conceded that News Corp.'s Fox Business Network -- which will surely mine the talent at The Wall Street Journal once the newspaper’s exclusive content agreement with CNBC expires in 2012 -- has been healthy competition for CNBC.
“It made our game better,” he added. “And it brought more attention to CNBC than we could have ever bought.”
Zucker started his climb up the NBC corporate ladder at the news department as the network’s youngest-ever (he was 26) executive producer of Today.
His comments came as MSNBC posted its highest ratings in its 11-year history Tuesday night with more than 7 million viewers tuning in for the last scheduled Democratic debate between Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.).
“I think [MSNBC has] found its identity,” Zucker said. “Politics is their calling card.”
But he acknowledged that there have been “some mistakes along the way,” referring to comments made by David Shuster and Chris Matthews about Chelsea and Hillary Clinton, respectively. “You can’t be on 24 hours a day and not make some mistakes, some misstatements,” he added.