Jeff Zucker applauds Leno 10 p.m. debut

Says advertisers' response has 'actually been quite good'

NEW YORK -- NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker lauded the Monday night debut of Jay Leno's 10 p.m. talk show here Tuesday, but said the show's success will be judged on a long-term basis.

Speaking at the annual Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference, Zucker said "obviously Jay got off to a very nice start last night" with "an incredibly strong audience."

"It was great to have him back," and he was "very pleased" with the audience, he said, but cautioned that "here's a very long way to go from here." Added Zucker: "We'll judge this on 52 weeks, not one night."

Asked about his expectations, he said: "The fact that it opened so well is a great sign, but it's only one night."

Advertisers' response has "actually been quite good," Zucker also told the conference. "The thing that sells the best on television is comedy," even though he acknowledged that the Leno show has not commanded the same rates as a successful one-hour drama would.

Zucker also said that the Leno show is "going to be as DVR-proof as you can be" in this day and age. "The most-watched show last season at 10 p.m. has been TiVo. It's a great show by the way." The Leno move to 10 p.m. "was an acknowledgment of that fact," he added.

Zucker was also asked about Jerry Seinfeld's joke as Leno's first guest Monday night that maybe he should get a 9 p.m. show on NBC. "If he'd like to begin negotiations today, we would certainly be open to it," the CEO quipped, but signaled he clearly saw the Seinfeld comment as a joke and wouldn't expect anything to happen.

Asked about current advertising market trends, Zucker said the upfront ended where he expected. "There are signs that (the scatter market) is a little bit healthier," with ad rates above upfront levels, he said. "We're also seeing stabilization on the local (ad) side."

Auto ads are starting to come back, according to Zucker, who echoed similar comments from other industry executives. "That's hopefully a trend we will continue to see."

Asked if NBC is using the new Leno show as a first step to get out of prime time programming, Zucker said: "We're not shutting down primetime hour-by-hour," signaling his team is focusing on profitability rather than revenue though. "We don't need to have the biggest sales, but the best business model," he said.

Zucker was also asked about possible new monetization opportunities for Hulu after News Corp. vice chairman, president and COO Chase Carey recently pushed for paid content offers on the ad-supported online video site. NBC Uni is "certainly open" to new models, but there are "no plans now," he said.

Asked about his interest in future Olympics beyond NBC's current contract, he said the company would like to feature the Olympics as long as the financials are sound.

"Our funds are not unlimited," he said. "Certainly the Olympics are an important part of the company, and we'd like to continue (it)."

Zucker Tuesday declined to comment on DVD rental kiosk operator Redbox, citing ongoing litigation.

But he said the DVD market is clearly challenged due to the recession and secular trends, and he is committed to continuing a windowing strategy in the film business.