Jeff Zucker Praises Keith Olbermann; Reveals His Own Plans

Jeff Zucker Little Fockers
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The outgoing NBC Universal CEO tells NAPTE audience he’s considering a return to news, sports producing.

Miami – Jeff Zucker dropped a strong hint at the end of his one on one session at NATPE on Monday about what he wants to do when he leaves NBC this Friday.

The former executive producer of The Today Show said the thing he loved the most during his 24 years at NBC was producing programming for news and sports. “I’m passionate about producing,” said Zucker, adding that he has been doing a lot of thinking about “getting back into that.”

First, however, he wants to wake up Monday morning with nothing he has to do for the first time in decades. “I’m kind of excited about that,” Zucker enthused. “I have never had a day off in all these years.

Zucker was interviewed by Wall St. stock market analyst Michael Nathanson of Nomura Securities, who revealed he is also Zucker’s brother-in-law.

Nathanson’s first question was what Zucker thought about the departure of Keith Olbermann from MSNBC. Zucker said he couldn’t talk about it beyond what the network had announced, but did call Olbermann “one of the great stars” at the cable network, and one of the reasons for its recent success.

He said Olbermann may be leaving but MSNBC remains “in a strong position.”

Zucker was happy to talk about the recently announced G.E. earnings which he said showed NBCU up 38 percent over last year, with strength across almost every area -- especially cable networks, theme parks, NBC News and finally sports, which he credited to the strong performance of Sunday night football.

Zucker said while the possibility that labor problems may disrupt the NFL, he remains convinced it is an area where NBC should continue to make the huge investments necessary to retain their game carriage.

In the past Zucker has spoken with concern about the future of broadcast TV, but he was bullish on its future in his comments

“I feel better about broadcast today than in a long time,” said Zucker, citing the upswing in the economy, the strength of their Spanish language broadcasting and especially the certainty that the networks will share increasingly in retransmission consent revenue along with local TV stations.

“That’s going to make a great difference in the viability of broadcast networks,” said Zucker, expressing his belief NBC should be “at the high end” of those who collect retrans fees.

Zucker also expects the NBC and Comcast cable networks to continue to increase the amount of original programming they do, in place of just re-running off-network and older shows.

He said CNBC, MSNBC, Bravo, Oxygen and Syfy already generate most of their own original content. He said the most “dramatic move” has been by USA Network, which has gone from two or three original series when he arrived to more than a dozen today.

“You have to move to more original programming,” added Zucker. “You have to give people a reason to go to them.”

Zucker called his decision to partner in Hulu the right thing because they needed to counter piracy and other networks “building businesses on the back” of NBCU content. He said Hulu has “exceeded every expectation.”

Zucker also defended the deals he has done with Netflix. “It replaced the back-end syndication model for some shows that had gone away,” said Zucker, “and we needed a back end for those shows.”

Zucker predicted the future would be about making “more content available on different screens,” but added the questions remains “how we get paid for that over the next three to five years. That’s the challenge for the industry.”