Zucker: Don’t Count Out TV

NEW YORK NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker said he would not defend the enduring power of TV in front of an audience of Web ad execs. He then went on to do precisely that, while arguing the changing media landscape would benefit so-called traditional media.

“Contrary to popular punditry, the rise of the Web does not mean the demise of mass media,” he said in the opening keynote of the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Mixx Conference here.

Zucker argued that while the Internet has changed the business model of programmers, it would not destroy it, but instead extend it into new areas. “It’s good to be king,” he said, “and we all know that content is king.”

But right now, too much attention is being paid to the method of delivery as the value creator, he said, citing the intense interest in YouTube and stratospheric stock price of Google. What those distribution vehicles lack, Zucker said, is high-quality hit shows like Lost that “separate the men from the boys in the media business.”

“It’s about the program, not the platform,” he said, pointing out that NBC now makes its programs available on TV, iPods and NBC.com. With the Web shifting from a search-dominated e-commerce focus to a pipeline for ad-supported entertainment, programmers will benefit.

Zucker held up the fashionable Web concept of “the long tail” as an example. Coined by Wired editor Chris Anderson, the long tail is the idea that digital distribution will create infinite niches for content, moving media (and other industries) from making broad-appeal products to specific ones that appeal to niches. This will provide an outlet for thousands of hours of old TV programming, Zucker said.

The keynote came as the IAB released new ad-spending figures that show Web ad expenditures rose 37 percent in the first six months of the year to just under $8 billion. Almost $3.2 billion of that, or 40 percent, was spent on search ads.

Yet for all the talk of the shift of dollars from mass media to targeted Web ads, TV remains the most potent way to reach consumers, Zucker pointed out, citing DVR penetration at just 10 percent of households and research showing TV viewing time at record levels. The oft-maligned 30-second commercial is far from dead, he added. “The :30 remains the most powerful marketing tool ever devised, and network TV is the only media that can reliably deliver a mass audience,” he said.

He also defended the notion that TV is a “passive” medium that does not engage viewers like the Web. “After a long day at work, I like some passive entertainment,” Zucker said. “I don’t want to interact. I want to veg. There’s a lot of people out there like me.”