MediaFile

Talking heads block Al-Jazeera TV in U.S.-Zucker

Millions of Americans have turned to Al-Jazeera for coverage of the crisis in Egypt, but for the vast majority, that has meant turning to the Internet rather than their televisions.

Why? Former NBC Universal Chief Executive Jeff Zucker has a theory — U.S. cable operators are afraid of the talk show backlash that would result if they carried the channel, viewed by some as having an anti-American bias. Jeff Zucker

Jeff Zucker

“Some people would attack some of the distributors like Comcast and others who would carry it for being un-American for carrying Al-Jazeera,” said Zucker, who stepped down as CEO of NBC at the end of January when General Electric Co closed on its sale of a majority stake in the media operation to Comcast Corp. “That’s part of what the problem is, which is incredibly unfortunate.”

Al-Jazeera says some 3.5 million U.S. viewers have turned to its live Web feed since Egyptians took to the streets to call for the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled that country for three decades.

During an hour-long talk on the state of the media at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Zucker discussed the rivalry between NBC’s cable news channel MSNBC, which has carved out a left-leaning niche, and its main rival News Corp’s Fox News Channel, on the right.

NBC Universal creates new sports marketing agency

It’s no secret that sports has been the brightest star of broadcast television lately. It pulls big audiences, and those viewers watch live — a combination that advertisers drool over.  So NBC Universal figured it was high time to make the most of its sports assets — soon to be coupled with those of Comcast – and today announced the creation of “NBC Sports Agency.”

The purpose of the group is to market NBC Sports, whether it’s their coverage of hockey, football, horse racing or the Olympics, and produce campaigns for advertisers or league partners like the NFL or the NHL. John Miller, credited for coming up with the “Must See TV” campaign for NBC’s primetime, will head up the effort. Many industry watchers had predicted that Comcast’s take over of NBC would see a push for more competition for sports rights with Disney’s ESPN powerhouse. Let the battle commence.

Here’s a video of Miller on his new role.

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Relief in Philadelpia? NBCU profit up 13 percent

NBC Universal’s quarterly results — still wrapped into the General Electric numbers — should have some of the folks down in Philadelphia smiling this weekend. The numbers didn’t set the world on fire, but both profit and revenue showed improvement thanks to (what else) the cable division.

Overall, NBCU’s quarterly profit rose 13 percent to $607 million. Revenue climbed 5 percent to $3.75 billion.

Keith Sherin, GE’s finance chief, credited Jeff Zucker with delivering what he called “a strong performance” and said the regulatory review of the sale to Comcast “is progressing as expected.”

Sun Valley: Jane Goodall and the primary primates

John MaloneIt’s day three of the Sun Valley media conference and the event has started to feel like a Jane Goodall documentary, in which we’re Jane and the moguls are the apes who have become comfortable letting us observe and record their movements. Several media executives groggily making their way to the morning’s first session (scheduled to kick off at 7:30), stopped to chat with the throng of press waiting to greet them.

Liberty Media Chairman John Malone voiced concerns about the economy for nearly 10 minutes while NBC’s Jeff Zucker, who once warned of the risks to media companies of trading analog dollars for digital pennies and later upped the exchange rate to dimes, posited the idea that the media industry was now within reach of collecting digital quarters. It’s change we can believe in.

Later on Thursday, Google’s chief executive Eric Schmidt (who for reasons unknown has been toting a camera with a beefy zoom lens throughout the event, even after-hours at the bar on Wednesday evening) will hold his traditional Sun Valley press roundtable, possibly with co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who are here.

That NBC: so green and so healthy

For those of you annoyed by NBC Universal’s “Green Week” — that stretch when the company’s peacock logo turns an irritating shade of green and its programs carry some sort of tortured green storyline — then you may want to stop reading right here. But for those of you who love the idea, here’s some news: NBC Universal is coming back with another Green Week in November and this time it will be running a TV special called “Harmony” featuring The Prince of Wales.

It’s also decided that not only do we viewers need to take better care of our planet, we need to take a little better care of ourselves. So it has also decided to launch “Healthy Week.”  Here’s how NBC Universal described the effort, which kicks off on June 21:

Similar to NBCU’s successful “Green Weeks,” numerous online and on-air NBCU brands will go “healthy” for the week, focusing on the topics of nutritional literacy and fitness, joining a major national cultural conversation on this topic around personal health, healthcare, diet, fitness, and childcare.

Hulu to charge? It’s getting closer…

Everybody loves free. But free has a price. And that price might just be $9.95 a month, according to The Los Angeles Times,  which writes that Hulu, the second most popular video site in the U.S, will soon start charging for a premium version of its site called Hulu Plus. We haven’t been able to confirm the details yet (Hulu’s staffers are sticking to the ol’ decline to comment). But rumors of premium version of Hulu have been doing the rounds for the last year. Back in October an NBC executive said the company was experimenting with various business models, including subscription content.

Let’s also not forget Hulu is soon to be a third owned by Comcast (through its ongoing acquisition of NBC) — which is not known for giving video programming away for free. Its other parents, News Corp and Disney, also aren’t known for their charity in the video programming business.

And it’s not just Hulu, YouTube has also started to experiment with pricing models and has indicated it would be open to subscription models if its content partners asked for it.

UPDATE: Everybody loves Steve Burke, even Warren Buffett

Stephen BurkeWhen news of Comcast’s bid for NBC Universal broke on Sept 30 most of the spotlight focused on Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts.

But as the weeks dragged on, some of that spotlight began to shine on his number 2, Stephen Burke, chief operating officer and a former senior Disney executive.

As we now know since the deal was confirmed on Dec 3, NBC Universal’s top brass will report to Burke, making him (once you count the 24 million subscribers he also oversees) one of the most powerful men in TV.

Zucker praises Comcast; but will it be a good fit?

zuckerWhen it comes to the Comcast-NBC Universal deal, one of the big stories over the coming year will center on corporate culture. Maybe too much is made of this, maybe different cultures had nothing to do with the disaster that was Time Warner-AOL, for instance. But I doubt it.

Which brings us back to Comcast-NBC Universal. The New York Post got a jump on the culture clash story today, and UBS banker Aryeh Bourkoff followed up on it during an interview with NBC Universal boss Jeff Zucker at the UBS Media and Communications Conference.

Asked about his relationship with Comcast’s Brian Roberts and Steve Burke, Zucker said up the following. (Perhaps he’s already figuring out the Comcast culture of bland, family friendly diplomacy).

Viacom: Don’t look to us for major dealmaking

After Comcast-NBC Universal, investment bankers are clearly drooling at the thought of some big money wheeling and dealing in the media business. Probably best not to count too heavily on Viacom being a player.

Viacom Chief Executive Philippe Dauman, speaking at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference, was asked about his company’s interest in acquisitions. His response was less than inspiring if you’re thinking about blockbuster deals:  “I’ll tell you the kind of acquisition we like. We recent bought the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for $60 million.”

While Dauman said Viacom would also consider looking at some independent cable networks in the U.S. or overseas, he made it know that “we are not interested in making the big splashy acquisition out there.”

Comcast, NBC Universal pledge support for local news

Comcast has finally unveiled its formal announcement that it plans to take control of NBC Universal from General Electric. Public interest groups and various U.S. government types have been tutting and clucking over whether this media mega-deal would be against the national interest, and few doubt that Congress and the administration will want to review this plan in loving detail.

To that extent, Comcast released a memo on Thursday outlining its public commitments. There are a bunch in here, but this old-school journalist wants to point out above all else that the company said it’s committed to preserving and enriching “the output of local news, local public affairs and other public interest programming on NBC O&O (“owned and operated”) stations.”

That’s a mighty strong commitment to make. Let’s hope that it doesn’t do what many radio and TV stations have done for years to satisfy their government-mandated public interest requirements and stick all that stuff on the air at 5 a.m. Sunday morning. Also, how much more money will they provide?