Just-ousted NBC Universal president and chief executive Jeff Zucker today praised AOL’s $315 million acquisition of The Huffington Post. He said NBC had tried for 18 months to buy the popular blog but “could never agree on price.”
At a talk sponsored by Harvard’s Shorenstein Center, Zucker called the purchase “a very good day if you believe in news. It helps The Huffington Post monetize its investment and gives AOL a bigger platform.”
Zucker, who lost his job when Comcast acquired the network, has in the past described broadcast television’s financial problems as trading “digital dimes for analog dollars.” But now he sees progress, and puts those numbers as 25 cents for digital and 50 cents for analog.
Calling the DVR the biggest threat to networks, he said, “We have to monetize eyeballs in different ways.”
He advises patience as traditional networks navigate the new media universe. “We want an immediate business model in place but it doesn’t work like that. Business models will evolve for news online.”
Zucker said good journalism will always matter. You’re not a journalist just because you have a blog and a fliptop camera, he said.
” ‘Branded’ journalism [like The New York Times] will be more important than ever. In a world of a thousand voices you have to know who to trust.”
“By and large information wants to be free,” he said. “The problem is that content is expensive. You have to juggle those two things.”
Zucker called it “way too simplistic to say that Fox and MSNBC’s loud-voiced political shows are what’s wrong with this country,” although he said he wished their tone was “less nasty and polarizing.”
He said that Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based satellite news network, should be more available in the U.S. but that distributors would be attacked as “unpatriotic” for airing it.
He called last year’s Jay Leno-Conan O’Brien “Tonight” show brouhaha a low point in his 24 years at the network, “very painful for me personally.”
NBC gave O’Brien the 11:35 p.m. slot and moved Leno to 10 p.m. Seven months later, Leno reclaimed his original time. Zucker said O’Brien, whom he’s known since their Harvard undergraduate days, believed that he was “owed” the 11:35 p.m. slot “but nobody’s owed anything in television.”
Zucker acknowledged that both shows failed but said he wouldn’t apologize for “taking a shot” at trying Leno at 10 p.m.
He said, “Our mistake was that we let Conan continue for two weeks [after he was removed from the 11:35 p.m. slot] and the whole thing became a national soap opera.”