Over the last year, NBC Universal has been very aggressive in its expansion plans, which have been a mix of acquisitions, organic growth and content that has proved successful in the US cable market place. At the NATPE Conference 2008, President and CEO of the company, Jeff Zucker, spoke on the changing global broadcasting industry and the various trends and challenges that it presents.
Speaking on the role of international market presence in the company’s expansion plans, Zucker explained that the recently signed deal with NDTV was a step in the direction of growing revenues from India. He said, “Right now, we may be making around $4 million revenues in India. If all goes right from here, we should be making $400 million in four years. The international market is growing much faster than the US, and it is important for us to get into that international footprint.”
He spoke on the need for local content to be able to grow fast in a market, and that is what the NDTV deal brings to the table for NBCU. “Getting in the local market place in the true sense makes all the difference. We have very high expectations from markets such as India,” he said.
Drawing a broad picture of the changes and challenges in the broadcast industry, Zucker said that appointment viewing had evolved to a level today where the consumer was deciding his primetime and not the networks. He said, “The cliché ‘content is king’ has been rewritten and the crown is on the consumer’s head right now, and that changes everything.”
He enumerated three areas that needed focus at present to ensure a structured growth for broadcasting – distribution, advertising sales and regulatory environment. He said, “We have NBC on broadcast, on cable, on the web, on the mobile, on video on demand platforms, and the reason is that today the viewer wants it in all of these different places.”
On the ad sales front, Zucker was of the opinion that innovative and clutter breaking ideas to reach the consumer had to be thought through in partnership with advertisers. He said, “We need to work with clients on new models based on behavioural research to build 360-degree sales strategies, which can pan across the various verticals.” He explained that the shift had to be to consciously move away from improved means to an unimproved end, to be able to have something important to communicate in the end.
Zucker was asked about NBCU cancelling the sales upfront that, according to some international media, was also attributed to the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) strike. Zucker, however, explained, “The system has been there for decades and I believe it needs to evolve. We have taken that step and I know it would be criticised, but that comes with the territory, it doesn’t mean you are not going to change.” He also asserted that the WGA strike had had no impact on the NBCU, and that scripted programming on NBC would still be going strong.
The broadcasting regulatory issues seem to be a problem the world over. According to Zucker, even an advanced television market like the US needed serious revisit to its regulatory environment, where there was serious difference between laws for broadcast TV and cable. “We need regulations that have a sense of 2008 and not 1948. There has been a revolution in the broadcasting industry in the last decade, the competition has changed, the business models have changed – the industry is on crossroads and policy makers need to step up and devise a comprehensive policy that is careful and rooted in realities of today’s market place and not ad hoc and reactive.”
The audience had much to ask and say to Zucker, especially in light of the fact that NBCU had recently made investments in demographic specific channel like Oxygen, new media like lx.TV, a deal that was signed earlier in the week, and NBCU’s approach to look global even in their content.
Following this keynote, the NATPE 2008 floor was opened for business.