-- "We've underinvested in development at NBC in recent years. I think that was a mistake."
-- "The fact is, we haven't done a good enough job."
Most of those statements could get people fired. Still, I like the frankness. It is always good to own up to the error of our ways.
And Jeff Zucker, president/CEO of NBC Universal, the person who made those remarks, actually got a new lease on life, asked to continue on in the same role under the newly formed joint venture of Comcast and GE.
Media business executives typically cop to problem areas from time to time. But they usually feel more comfortable making such statements in better surroundings.
Recently, Bob Iger, president/CEO of Walt Disney Company, moaned that Walt Disney Studios wasn't cutting it when it came to films. A decision came quickly to rectify this: out with Dick Cook, in with Rich Ross. But these statements could be contrasted against the background of a positive profile of a media company that, while having its ups and downs, is still very competitive in virtually all its main businesses.
The problem for NBC Universal's Zucker is that the company's successes have virtually been in one area: its cable networks. Universal Studios hasn't been doing great; the NBC network hasn't been a legitimate contender for years; and, lest we forget, NBC's local TV stations have been suffering more than their share.
To be fair, NBC isn't Disney. It doesn't have theme parks, a big licensing/merchandising division, or a must-have sports cable network.
With NBC now tentatively sold, it seems somewhat easier for Zucker to speak his mind. But why now? Is it because NBC is in the arms of a mostly media distribution company -- a closer and more understanding owner - and so speaking frankly works better?
Now, it really looks as though recent network moves -- such as putting Leno on at 10 p.m. -- have been exactly what they seemed: quick fixes with little upside.
These media investor conferences have been regular events for years. Why wasn't some of this addressed earlier?
Why talk as if only the cable networks mattered, as if the first three letters of the company's moniker were a law firm whose name was left behind by a retiring partner?