Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

NBCU's Jeff Zucker Turns Lemonade Into Lemons

Just as NBC Universal’s Hulu online video-sharing site debuted yesterday to decent reviews, including by BoomTown here, its CEO Jeff Zucker managed to fall all over himself to diss the digital media business.


Hooray for Hollywood!

In an interview with writer (and BoomTown friend!) Ken Auletta at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School, the voluble Zucker (pictured here) blamed Apple for ruining the music business.

Not the shortsighted music companies that foisted crappy albums, onerous distribution methods and too-high prices on the consuming public. But Apple, which, of course, had essentially launched the digital music business for paid downloads.

To be fair, Zucker did add “in terms of pricing” to the idea that Apple was the, sorry, spoiler, noting that NBCU only had $15 million in revenue for its video fare on iTunes in its last year (a deal it recently pulled out of, with plans to create its own service).

Zucker said NBCU only wanted to raise prices on some shows it was selling to get better returns, even though Apple’s Steve Jobs has stuck to his guns on keeping pricing lower.

That has driven the entertainment industry nuts, since the iPod device has essentially been the only one widely embraced by consumers.

“We don’t want to replace the dollars we were making in the analog world with pennies on the digital side,” said Zucker, in a sound bite that his PR person doubtlessly spent all night crafting (and it’s choice!).


More astonishing, he even seemed to ask for a vig from sales of the hugely popular iPod device, since “Apple sold millions of dollars worth of hardware off the back of our content and made a lot of money.”

Oh my. That’s sort of like Britney Spears asking the tabloids to hand over a big bag of Benjamins for making such bank covering her riveting high jinks and crotch emergencies. Frankly, she has a better argument than Zucker.

In fact, the NBCU honcho has been in a bit of a rant of late, saying at an antipiracy summit hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently that the government must act as if we were in a shock-and-awe war from copyright thieves.

He even asked for intellectual-property enforcement bureaus run by the Feds and also federal monies for state and local governments to investigate dangerous teen CD ripping.

“We need, across the board, to move IP enforcement up the agenda of the federal government,” said Zucker, noting the mission was “absolutely critical to our economic prosperity.”

Although I would agree piracy is an important issue, here’s what is most critical: That Zucker leans more to the mindset that took baby steps in creating Hulu as more of a distributed operation than a command-and-control style that Hollywood has favored so far, despite a complete rejection by consumers.

Piracy and a whole lot more will be assuaged when entertainment companies stop fighting a trend, which is that consumers have taken control and they are not handing power back.

Not everything about Hulu is great–no downloads, limiting hit shows’ availability, not enough social-interaction tools and, eeeek in the Age of YouTube, no user-generated content section.

Still, there is much Hulu gets right, especially in its easy-to-use embedding capability and seeming willingness to let consumers decide what clips they want.

Thus, Zucker’s words made me worry he had some sort of multiple-personality disorder when I read them yesterday, because he needn’t have picked such a public fight with the digital media’s most potent symbol just over his pique over price.

In the antipiracy speech, Zucker joked: “Our business models today are changing faster than a ‘Saturday Night Live’ skit gets posted on YouTube.”

You got that right, Jeff. Now try and pay attention to yourself.

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