Wednesday, January 30, 2008, 1:18 AM ET|Posted by Will Richmond
Jeff Zucker, NBCU's president and CEO gave a stirring, candid keynote at the NATPE show yesterday, in which he essentially said that all the rules that the broadcast TV industry has lived by for six decades have now changed. It was a pretty blunt assessment, given in terms not often heard from PR-cautious CEOs.
I thought Zucker nailed it on the head when he said that "technology is transforming every part of our business," suggesting that to succeed in the future the company must re-engineer itself from top to bottom. The technology drivers - DVRs, broadband distribution, VOD, mobile and inexpensive production equipment are all leading to fundamental changes in distribution, advertising sales, marketing and content development.
Zucker said that the "historic economic model supporting broadcast TV is wounded." This is well exemplified in the broadband space, where networks have eagerly pushed their hit programs online. Yet in referring to its broadband initiatives, Zucker acknowledged, "Our challenge with all these ventures is to effectively monetize them so that we do not end up trading analog dollars for digital pennies," noting "This is the Number 1 challenge for everyone in this industry today."
I believe many of the steps Zucker's taking will help surmount this challenge. They include: Improving the allocation of resources and efficiency of the pilot process to help NBC maximize the opportunity that the mass-scale broadcast business still provides. Expanding the marketing of its programs beyond traditional influencers to help tap into the water coolers of the digital age. Broadening the role of its stations encompassing all local media opportunities instead of just selling TV ad space to enhance their competitiveness. Setting up digital studios to produce content geared for the broadband and mobile to tap new audiences.
Listening to Zucker, I felt myself being optimistic about his leadership and the likelihood that his game plan will ultimately lead to a successful transformation of the business. It won't come without plenty of bumps in the road, but it did strike me as clear-headed thinking which was sensitive to the network's traditions, but not obsequious to them. Throughout his keynote, he repeatedly reminded the audience that great storytelling and content is what all matters. The story of how NBC and the other networks will learn to succeed in the broadband era is definitely one worth following.