NBC's Zucker Still Seems Like He's Feeling Around In The Dark

from the still-getting-used-to-this-whole-internet-thing dept

It's hard to know where to start with this story on an interview with NBC head honcho Jeff Zucker from the D conference this week. He makes a few comments about replacing "analog dollars with digital pennies", saying he thinks they're now up to dimes, but his comments overall still don't create much of an impression that he understands the fundamental changes needed to his company's business any better today than he did a couple years back. For instance, he talks about the high cost of producing network TV, and how it's made it impossible to "sustain just average programming." Is that such a bad thing? Perhaps too much "just average programming" has led NBC to its current #3 spot among TV networks. To this point, he says that a show like Seinfeld, which didn't perform all that well in its initial four episodes, wouldn't survive today. But whose fault is that? It's hard to see how it's anybody but the networks'. If they can't do a better job of determining which shows will be hits, or crafting popular shows, that certainly seems to be their own problem. Taken in whole, the comments largely seem to smack of the same old "the world is changing... which means there's a problem with the world, not with our business" thinking that dominates old media. While NBC's Hulu is an early success, it doesn't mean the company fully grasps the change needed. For instance, if finding new hits is such a problem, why not leverage the online presence to test and build new shows? Or here's a novel thought: Hulu's a popular site, so why not test shows there before putting them on the broadcast network?


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    Freedom, May 28th, 2009 @ 2:18pm

    Not that novel of a thought :) ...

    >> Or here's a novel thought: Hulu's a popular site, so why not test shows there before putting them on the broadcast network?

    On the surface this sounds great, but the current infrastructure costs of making a show can't possibly be supported by the revenue that Hulu is generating at this point (granted, major assumption that Hulu revenue is far from traditional sources).

    The real problem is you need X dollars to make a traditional TV show and if revenue/profit streams aren't there, you can't produce those shows any longer without figuring out how to make them cheaper or find a revenue stream to 'tap'.

    I really don't think these guys are the idiots we all to think they are - they have a very basic problem and a huge paradigm shift to work through all while still trying to support 'old media ways' and pioneer new.

    Freedom

     

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  2.  
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    Jim, May 28th, 2009 @ 2:32pm

    Hulu Success?

    I really like Hulu, and they are clearly an "early success" in terms of getting people to use the site; however, until we see some numbers, we won't know that have a viable business. They can't be making a lot off all the public service ads that I've seen. Old media companies also have a history of strangling their new media children (remember Movielink?).

     

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  3.  
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    jjmsan, May 28th, 2009 @ 2:32pm

    Re: Not that novel of a thought :) ...

    Pilot shows don't generate revenue. They test a concept or storyline. Techdirt is not suggesting the execs are stupid. What they are suggesting is that the people in charge will save more jobs and make the transition less tramatic by adapting rather than ignoring how the world is changing.

     

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  4.  
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    :Lobo Santo (profile), May 28th, 2009 @ 2:32pm

    Re: Not that novel of a thought :) ...

    Yeah... too bad nobody has ever thought of a way to do that. Never. Not once since the inception of newspaper, radio, or television--nobody EVER thought of a way to get somebody else to cover costs. Damn shame.

    ***This comment sponsored by SATIRE International***

    "Remember, if it's not serious, it might be satire."

     

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  5.  
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    A Dan, May 28th, 2009 @ 2:36pm

    Re: Not that novel of a thought :) ...

    That's what he's saying. Think of opportunity cost. You can test-run new shows on Hulu to see whether they're any good without wasting your valuable airtime on the network with a risky new show. Then, if the show proved to be popular on Hulu, you could migrate it over to a broadcast slot. It's like having an audience for screenings but you still get a little money out of it.

     

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  6.  
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    Bettawrekonize, May 28th, 2009 @ 2:38pm

    "Not once since the inception of newspaper, radio, or television--nobody EVER thought of a way to get somebody else to cover costs."

    Yes they have. Just get the government to do it (ie: bail outs).

     

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  7.  
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    :Lobo Santo (profile), May 28th, 2009 @ 2:44pm

    Re:

    Hello!
    Your sentences are becoming more cogent (Good Job!), though you have obviously not yet mastered the 'reply' button.

    Also, good point. :)

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 28th, 2009 @ 3:00pm

    Well, it worked for the lightbulb.

    replacing "analog dollars with digital pennies", saying he thinks they're now up to dimes...

    Wow. The Ghost of JP Morgan visted me as well!

    He's a hoot in his hauntings. You know you've been visited by the real J. Pierpont Morgan if he says "have you any brandy about, young man?"

    Anyways, it seems he desires to sell more meters and per-use products, similar to what he insisted upon when started Edison General Electric.

     

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  9.  
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    qhartman (profile), May 28th, 2009 @ 3:05pm

    I think the whole "hit series" model needs to be examined. Really, it's not realistic or sustainable to expect even a significant percentage of shows to be able to draw an audience season after season. I think that if the majority of American TV switched to the British model where a show usually is a fixed number of episodes designed to tell a specific story, we all would be better off. It could be bigger than a mini-series, but still feel "complete". One of the worst things is when a good show gets canceled mid-story and the people who do like it are left with a bitter taste.

    If something does do really well, there's nothing stopping them from doing another season, or a sequel, or what have you. This model will do a lot prevent good shows from dying slow painful deaths (Alias comes to mind, first 2-3 seasons were brilliant, after that, not so much) by not having this implied open-endedness.

     

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  10.  
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    BigKeithO, May 28th, 2009 @ 3:22pm

    What About Canada?

    Then how would they know if the show would work in Canada? You can't have those crazy Canadian's viewing anything on Hulu, in fact why would you want to?!?

     

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  11.  
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    Gammapunk, May 28th, 2009 @ 3:23pm

    Zucker Should Have Been Fired Years Ago

    This moron still doesn't get it. How about producing a TV show or movie someone would actually want to watch. What a novel idea. I work for GE and I don't watch anything they broadcast on NBC or as within GE it is called "National Barrack Channel". If I performed my job the way Zucker has over the past few years, my ass would have been fired long ago.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 28th, 2009 @ 4:02pm

    I love the analogy.

    Analog dollars = Digital Pennies.

    It works both ways. The advancements in technology should have allowed NBC to reap amazing cost savings in distribution, and production.

    It may be digital pennies, but if you're managing to bring in 105 times more digital pennies than analog dollars as a result of making your overall operations more efficient and eliminating distribution costs, then you're doing 5% better and your customers are getting a better experience.

    For some reason they really want to hold onto that analog dollar.

     

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  13.  
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    Designerfx (profile), May 28th, 2009 @ 4:09pm

    Re: Not that novel of a thought :) ...

    hulu's not that revenue generating for 2 reasons:

    1: irrelevant commercials.

    Some are interesting, some are actually funny at times. however, none of them bear relevance to the shows that they are attached to.

    2: crippled by the networks
    If people could watch ALL The episodes of a series online, they would have no reason to need to download them. Instead, we have 5 episodes, which is a bunch of bullcrap and also gives people a reason to go back and torrent if they want to catch old episodes. I have no way to give people a convenient 100% legal way to catch a TV episode, if they don't have cable and don't feel any value towards DVDs, short of downloading them online.

    If they realized the power they would harness by having every one of the shows online, people would be watching stuff like crazy especially since hulu has good quality. Then again, all the media companies exec's need to be fired so what's new eh.

     

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  14.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), May 28th, 2009 @ 4:20pm

    Re: Re: Not that novel of a thought :) ...

    "***This comment sponsored by SATIRE International***"

    The networks prefer to make their money on IRONY, thankyouverymuch.

     

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  15.  
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    Jon L (profile), May 28th, 2009 @ 5:06pm

    Re: I love the analogy.

    Actually, that's the heart of the problem.

    Advancements in technology HAVE NOT been applied to our business as a whole. For crying out loud, the productions are still using software called "Cinergy 2000" at best.

    We don't have enterprise class shared scheduling of resources, nor shared reporting or budgeting tools. And some of the web 2.0 tools are getting better, but not nearly good enough to be used widely.

    Our staffing requirements and the amount of paper pushed around on a set are formidable, and we haven't gained much in efficiencies over the past 10 years. (A lot of that has to do with the paperwork required each and every day of production for each union worker on the set, SAG, AFTRA, IATSE, Teamsters, etc.).

    And now that we need to do new media too (which, of course we do, and should do) it's actually only added to the staff requirements of a show.

    Revamping the the entire workflow process beginning-to-end to take advantage of what you *could* do with technology today is something I've been actively pursuing for years, but it's something that raising funding for is very difficult, and it can't be built with off-the-shelf components (neither is it a $10m endeavor anymore - it's about $2m to develop and deploy an end to end, secure, offline capable, system that can be efficient and intuitive enough that you can reduce your headcount).

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 28th, 2009 @ 5:12pm

    Re: Re: Not that novel of a thought :) ...

    3. Idiotic international laws that make everyone else on the world torrent their shows as they are aired in the US instead of waiting 6 months to get them. At least, the good ones. I think you can know which show is popular in the rest of the world by following international downloads of torrents. (Thinking out loud: I think you can also know which shows are popular in the US by following the torrents, anyway).

     

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  17.  
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    Cap'n Jack (profile), May 28th, 2009 @ 7:57pm

    "To this point, he says that a show like Seinfeld, which didn't perform all that well in its initial four episodes, wouldn't survive today. But whose fault is that? It's hard to see how it's anybody but the networks'. If they can't do a better job of determining which shows will be hits, or crafting popular shows, that certainly seems to be their own problem."

    Hmm, there are faults to both those things. I can name a few examples of shows like Seinfeld, and not quite like Seinfeld, that survived in both a harsher economic climate and survived with low ratings. It happens sometimes. It happened with How I Met Your Mother, which is now CBS second most popular Monday night comedy (as a fan of the show, I used to hope it wouldn't get cancelled every few weeks in its first season). Then there's the example of Dollhouse, which had exceptionally low ratings, with the season finale being the worst - and it still got renewed!

    It's up to the networks to place their faith in shows. But Carlos, I think you're being unfair. A network can't afford to keep every good quality show on air if it's not pulling in an audience. Firefly was an amazing show, and Fox dropped the ball with it, but even so, they couldn't have known it would develop a very strong fanbase. The people choosing what shows stay and what shows can't always make the right decision. Sometimes great shows must suffer for that.

     

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  18.  
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    Markus Hopkins (profile), May 28th, 2009 @ 10:44pm

    Testing Shows

    "Hulu's a popular site, so why not test shows there before putting them on the broadcast network?"

    They are in fact doing this. Right now there are at least two Pilot episodes of shows on Hulu. "Glee" and "Mental." Hopefully this release setup will help great new shows get more than 4 episodes.

     

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  19.  
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    uhmno, May 29th, 2009 @ 12:54am

    Maybe it's time to ask for the international markets to give money upfront instead of selling them the series after they've been produced? I'm sure they'd be willing to invest.

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2009 @ 1:08am

    Re: I love the analogy.

    For some reason they really want to hold onto that analog dollar.

    Well, I guess they can put up tollbooths, and metered usage.

    It worked well to ensure utility availability for industries such as water, gas, sewer, and electricity.

    But, the "utilities" haven't innovated very much outside their core businesses either. This is because the industries matured and do to the level of regulation, a contunation to challenge and push the envelope forward seemed to have stopped due to their "utility" nature.

    If Television has really hit the wall on innovating, and can't depend on market economics, then perhaps it is best to swallow the death pill of metered usage.

    However, it should be duly noted that industries that tend to go down this route will ultimately survive, and the level of government involvement in day-to-day business will increase dramatically.

    A positive piece of this is that the RIAA/MPAA would ultimately be phased out, and replaced by a Public Commission similar to the "Public Utilities Commission" for oversight, and it's also possible that the tollbooth pricing would be set as well.

    The tollbooth idea just doesn't seem to be a good way to ensure longterm growth but, again if they are done innovating and relying on sound market-level economics, well, it leaves few other choices.

     

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