[In progress] NBC Universal (NYSE: GE) CEO Jeff Zucker opened the McGraw-Hill (NYSE: MHP) Media Summit by taking on Comedy Central's Jon Stewart, who on the Daily Show last week took CNBC and one of its main stars, Mad Money host Jim Cramer, to task for not doing more to be in front of the economic collapse.
Zucker: "I think Jon Stewart was incredibly unfair to CNBC and to business media in general. Everybody wants to find a scapegoat. I'm upset that my 401(k) isn't what it was. But to suggest that CNBC is responsible is absurd. Jim Cramer was out in front during two days in particular, when he went after Ben Bernanke. He told viewers six months ago to go to cash now. It's like holding BusinessWeek responsible for Nov. 2007 for suggesting that AIG was the best stock to buy. You can't look at any singular call that CNBC or Jim Cramer makes. I'm incredibly proud of what we've done."
We're a cable company: In the meantime, CNBC is enjoying its highest ratings ever, Zucker noted, so Stewart's comments aren't likely to dent the network's viewership, he indicated. As he has in the past, Zucker downplayed the broadcasting business, which has been suffering lately. "About 60 percent of our operating profit comes from cable. We're mostly a cable company now, you wouldn't know it by the name, but it's true. We have two core competencies: news and information and cable. That's why the purchase of Oxygen was so important. Oxygen fit perfectly into that thinking, plus, it helped offer a focus for female viewers and advertisers who want to reach them. The option for cross-channel promotion makes Oxygen a plus for us." More after the jump
Questioning the model: After talking up the strength of NBC News across the board, turning to broadcast in general, Zucker was asked about moving Jay Leno to the 10:00 PM slot. "We're going through tremendous changes. I'm sure BusinessWeek is constantly trying to decide how much to put online and how much to put in print. Newspapers didn't ask themselves about the changes, neither did Detroit. We all wish we could put our heads down and wish it were 1987. But technology has changed the way people watch video. NBC primetime has had a difficult time the past 3 or 4 years. Sometimes, you see the world more clearly when you're flat on your back. We've had the same model for 50 years. We have to question that, especially in this economy.
From primetime to all-time: As for Leno and Conan, NBCU wanted to have its cake and eat it too. We wanted to show a commitment to both. This is the third or fourth time we've looked at moving the time of the Tonight Show. technology and viewer habits have made this make sense. We expect to do well, but we don't expect to do as well with the primetime dramas. But what does being number one in primetime mean anymore? What matters is how many people are watching on iTunes, how many are downloading on iTunes? I don't want to say ratings don't matter. It's just that they are not the only gauge anymore."
By David Kaplan