As rumors swirled about the GE-Comcast deal for NBC Universal, now finally confirmed, the two big questions have been about the long-term status of Jeff Zucker and the broadcast television business. Comcast CEO Brian Roberts has answered both.
“I think the future of broadcast television continues to be a big part of NBC Universal,” said Roberts in an interview on CNBC, which will become a part of his company under the pending deal. “NBC Universal’s success in cable I don’t think would be quite as great and as profound a transformation that Jeff [Immelt, GE CEO], and Jeff Zucker, and their teams have accomplished in the last five years since partnering with Universal, where some 75% of the company today is cable programming. They have the #1 channel [USA Network]. A lot of those shows, a lot of that promotion also is on NBC. So, I think being part of a family of content is better than standalone,” Roberts declared.
The Comcast CEO later said he didn’t expect to see any change in the network-affiliate relationship, apparently quashing speculation that the cable company might try to turn the Peacock Network into a cable network and bypass the affiliates. Roberts even made mention of the growing importance of retransmission consent payments to local broadcast stations, without mentioning that Comcast, as the largest MSO, is the biggest payor when it comes to retrans. But he said there appears to be more upside than downside to the broadcast business.
What about NBCU CEO Zucker? “Yes, Jeff Zucker has been with NBC for over 20 years. He’s helped transform it. Again, I think something that people have not focused on is how fantastic the cable programming channels are that NBC Universal has and, in a way, sometimes their name gets in the way of that. We’ve joked about that. Obviously, two great franchises in NBC and Universal, but a huge part of the growth has been all these other businesses,” Roberts said. “We’re excited to get to know Jeff better,” he added and confirmed that Comcast has made a long-term commitment to Zucker, without spelling out any specific timeframe for that initial commitment.
For probably a year, though, which seems to be the minimum expectation for regulatory reviews, NBCU will still be run by General Electric and GE CEO Jeff Immelt was also part of the CNBC interview. “My top priority for next year, and Brian’s I’m sure, wherever we end up here, is to get NBC back to #1 again. Let’s make no mistake, where we are today on the broadcast network is unacceptable. And I share responsibility with that. That is job one,” Immelt declared.
RBR-TVBR observation: Baby steps. First you’d better get to #3!
So, how is Jeff Zucker’s new strategy for the 10-11 pm ET/PT hour working out? “The Jay Leno show” was beaten by reruns on Monday, but then NBC actually won Tuesday in 18-49 [LINK] with special programming replacing Leno. You don’t need to be Einstein to figure out the math on this problem.