Zucker on NBC U 2.0

CEO details strategy to recapture profits

NBC Universal Television Group CEO Jeff Zucker is back in the spotlight, as one of the lead figures in the company’s new NBC U 2.0 initiative. While Zucker, 41, is quick to note that this is a company-wide campaign, many Hollywood insiders say quietly that the cost-cutting is a crucial test for his reputation on Wall Street and his potential to replace NBC U Chairman Bob Wright. Zucker talks to B&C’s Ben Grossman about the moves and how much of NBC U 2.0 is on his shoulders.

Why announce all this publicly?

Given that there is so much attention on NBC, so much focus on this company that anything we would try to do quietly—well, we can’t do anything quietly. And though I think a lot of the things we are talking about other companies are doing as well but perhaps a little more quietly, given the attention on us right now, that’s just not possible for us. Plus, we want to be open and frank about what is going on in the industry. I think Disney has done it with their film industry and Time Warner with AOL, Tribune with the L.A. Times. I think you have to acknowledge the issues the entire media industry is facing.

Is the NBC network getting entirely out of scripted shows at 8 p.m.?

We are not going to get completely out of scripted; there is no hard and fast rule here. The fact is, we are having a tremendous amount of success with [My Name Is] Earl and The Office, and that will be a big part of what we do going forward. It’s an acknowledgment of what the audience is seeking at 8; there is no getting out of the fact that Deal or No Deal, Dancing With the Stars, Home Makeover, Survivor and American Idol are the biggest shows on the air at 8:00, and that’s what audiences want to watch. We can’t stick our heads in the sand and ignore that.

So what will 8 p.m. look like on NBC in the near future?

It will be anchored by Earl and The Office, and beyond that, there is alternative programming like Deal, 1 vs 100 and The Apprentice.

Will it just be unscripted, or will you look at lower-cost scripted, such as the telenovela model?

I wouldn’t rule anything out, but I don’t think that’s what we are talking about.

As part of the cost cutting, will you be buying more in-house as opposed to outside studios?

We never said we are going to just buy from our own studio. That would be a mistake.

Is this really a forward-thinking strategy or just about fixing past mistakes?

This is clearly about the future; it’s about anticipating the next five years.

What does this say about the network business?

The network television business remains very vibrant, but we all have to get a grip on our escalating production and marketing costs.

Are the entertainment cable networks affected by this?

The entertainment cable nets are facing the same scrutiny with production costs as the network entertainment side. All of our production costs, whether NBC or USA, Sci Fi or Bravo, we are looking at all of them now.

How much of this NBC U 2.0 initiative is your responsibility, given the talk about your ascension within NBC Universal?

This is a company-wide thing, and obviously, I am responsible for the television group, and so obviously the TV group is two-thirds of the company, and that’s my responsibility. Look, I am just focused on making sure we are correctly positioned for the future; this is about the company and not about me.