UBS Conference: Zucker Regrets NBC Primetime Problems

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NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker, who will be leaving the company when Comcast assumes control, accepted responsibility for NBC's failures in primetime.

Speaking at a session at the 38th annual UBS Global Media and Communications Conference Wednesday in New York that was as much This Is Your Life as Squawk Box, Zucker recounted his career and said along with all of the company's success, his regret was the performance of the Peacock network on his watch.

"Obviously it was my responsibility and I didn't get that right. I didn't find the right people, find the right shows, and that was my responsibility. I never got the team right, until recently," Zucker said.

He added that of the executive leadership team at NBCU, he put together about 80% of the people who will continue to run the company. "I got almost all of them right. The one place I didn't get it right was NBC Entertainment."

But Zucker added that now, NBC Entertainment and primetime represent a very small part of NBC Universal from a financial point of view.

"NBC primetime is 5% of our bottom line, but it's 105% of our perception," he said. "From a business standpoint, it was a deminimus part of our bottom line... but my ability to get it fixed has attracted all the headlines. It's probably the biggest regret I have as I move on."

Zucker noted that NBC Universal has been transformed. When he began working there in 1986, it was a domestically focused broadcaster. In the last five years, it has become a cable network company, with two-thirds of the company's bottom line coming from cable assets.

He credited his predecessor, Bob Wright, for gathering those assets and said they were "turbocharged" under his own management.

"NBC is incredibly important. Broadcasting is in my blood, but the heart of the company is the cable networks," he said.

Looking ahead Zucker said that dealing with digital opportunities and challenges is the key for companies like NBCU over the next five years.

Zucker famously once said that media companies couldn't afford to trade analog dollars for digital dimes.

"The industry has made progress. We're up to digital quarters at this point. We've got a long way to go. The challenge for media companies is how do you take it from digital quarters to digital 50-cent pieces to digital dollars or higher?"

He added that the pace of change is accelerating.

"The iPad didn't exist 18 months ago. It's changed everything," he said. "The rate of change in the next 12 months, 24 months is going to be incredible."

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