Zucker: NBC 'Ripping Apart' Old Business Models

NBC Universal President Concerned About Digital Piracy

NBC Universal president

Jeff Zucker

said NBC has been "ripping apart old business models" and trying "radically new" ones as it attempts to hold on to an increasingly fragmenting audience.

And to help protect all of that digital content, he is calling for technological solutions to block pirates, including challenging Internet-service providers like AT&T to develop filtering technologies to weed out pirated content and unclog networks.

According to the text of a speech Zucker is scheduled to deliver Wednesday morning at an anti-piracy summit in Washington, NBCU is focused on two areas: digital and international. And that means delivering its shows using more than one-dozen methods that, although he did not explicitly make the point, don't include delivering the shows to NBC-affiliated TV stations.

Saying that the future of those platforms depends on protecting the content from intellectual-property pirates, Zucker enumerated the options available now, or "within the next few weeks," for anyone who might miss Thursday night's debut of 30 Rock: A viewer can stream it free at NBC.com; download it free-of-charge and keep it for seven days, also at NBC.com; buy it at Amazon.com and keep it "forever"; watch it "on-demand" on some cable and satellite systems; watch it on a cell phone; "in a few weeks" time, stream it at Hulu.com, the new joint venture with News Corp.; or even buy the DVD at the end of the season.

"Our business models today are changing faster than a Saturday Night Live skit gets posted on YouTube," Zucker said in the speech, only partly in jest. That's because one of Zucker's proposed solutions to rampant piracy of digital content and other intellectual piracy is for content-hosting sites like YouTube to take "strong technology-based action to prevent their infrastructure from supporting distribution of pirated content."

Zucker said NBC U is not ready to acknowledge the "conventional wisdom" that a technological fix to digital piracy was a lost cause, adding that color-shifting inks and holograms were protecting currency and making labels harder to counterfeit.

"Technology is not just something that feeds the beast of piracy," he said, "but can be harnessed to effectively combat it."

Zucker praised AT&T for committing to expanded research into tools for reducing piracy, saying that he hopes that within the next few months, all of the largest ISPs will follow suit. Filtering technology, he added, is the "best shot at relieving clogged networks by keeping copyright-infringing content off the networks."

Sounding like a member of the network-neutrality debate team, Zucker argued that "bandwidth hogs" jamming the pipeline with peer-to-peer traffic made up primarily of pirated video threaten to impair the online experience for law-abiding customers buying video from companies like NBC U and to divert "expensive infrastructure" from "other fee-paying uses."

AT&T and others have argued that they need the flexibility to manage Internet traffic in the face of that increasingly clogged pipe, or else they will fail to attract the capital needed to invest in infrastructure to boost speeds and capacity.

Zucker said there are five areas where technological solutions were needed: ISPs; user-generated-content Web sites like YouTube and MySpace; universities; manufacturers of home electronics and home-networking technology; and auction sites and search engines like eBay, Yahoo and Google.

He added that the company has had private conversations with "many of these" and hopes those will soon become public commitments.

Taking up the the battle against intellectual piracy from NBC U's CAE (chief anti-piracy evangelist), his predecessor, Bob Wright, Zucker pulled no punches, saying that IP theft is increasing across a "broad range"of key sectors and calling it "the new face of organized crime."

Zucker also took the wraps off of a new study, "The True Cost of Copyright Industry Piracy," which put that figure at $60 billion annually and 373,000 jobs.

He called on advertisers, agencies and credit-card companies not to support Web sites that "are overwhelmingly devoted to making available pirated and counterfeit products," although he named no names.