NBCUniversal chief Steve Burke acknowedged today that he’s been surprised by the decline in cable TV ratings over the last year — although, as you might expect, he’s still a big believer in the medium and its power.
Much of the drop is due to the increase in competition, including from online services. Netflix is “obviously affecting [TV] ratings,” although DVRs and other forms of time shifting have a bigger impact, told attendees of the CES consumer electeonics confab today.
Burke added that with all of the options viewers have, “it’s very hard to have reruns get great ratings.”
Still, he says that advertisers need the medium. Many are shifting dollars to digital services including YouTube and Facebook viewing digital as “some shiny thing that’s better.”
But he says that some buyers “are starting to come back” to TV, seeing it as the most effective way to reach a mass audience.
“People watch more TV now than ever,” he says. NBCU spends about $1 billion a year to market its theme parks, movies and TV shows, and “it’s unthinkable that you wouldn’t use television….The notion that digital is going to supplant or destroy the television business, I don’t buy it.”
NBCU is hedging its bets with its investments in digital services including BuzzFeed and Vox, and launch of a streaming comedy service: Seeso. “We need to get better distributing our product on the Internet,” Burke says. “It’s our job to make more bets on the digital side.”.
It’s part of his view that “you get in trouble when the world is changing if you try to preserve the status quo.” Although bets on new initiatives won’t always work, “ne of our mistakes won’t be not taking risks.”
One way he hopes to benefit from digital involves a collaboration with BuzzFeed, which plans to send a dozen young reporters to this year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro to interview athletes. “You can guarntee they’ll be done from a different perspective,” Burke says. That could “get millennials thinking about the Olympics in a way they may not have.”
For the most part, though, Comcast has found more value at NBCU than it expected when it bought the entertainment company five years ago.
“We valued the NBC network at close to zero,” he says — but now it’s making about $800 million.
Universal has had a record year but while film is “a tough busniess to be consistent in…we feel good about that business.”
All told, “if you were goig to create a perfect media company it would look a lot like Comcast and NBCUniversal.”