Steve Burke, CEO of NBCUniversal, kicked off the fourth annual NBC Innovation Day with a keynote appearance touching on the Facebook scandal and the consolidation spree going on in the media business, among other subjects.
“Facebook has a real problem,” Burke told moderator Becky Quick, co-anchor of CNBC’s Squawk Box, about the mushrooming issue of the Cambridge Analytica data episode. “I think they have a very serious problem because at the end of day, particularly large businesses are based on trust. … The problem is exacerbated by the fact that Facebook’s business model is based on capturing data that many many times people don’t know they’re giving and then selling that data, very often electronically, to a buyer where Facebook doesn’t even know the buyer. So there’s a whole series of things going on in their business model that are very different from our business model.”
Ad agency execs, tech vendors and other media stakeholders comprised the majority of the 200 or so attendees at the event, which also featured Jeffrey Katzenberg and execs from Netflix, Roku, Omnicom and Wieden + Kennedy. Topic A for most in the room is the M&A landscape. As Burke noted, over the past 50 years, each decade has brought one or two dramatic mergers, but the current decade has at least four or five game-changers in various stages of completion.
“With the world becoming more global,” he said of the burst of dealmaking. “You want scale and you want to be a global player yourself.”
Refreshingly, given the “size matters” mantra repeated endlessly by media execs, Burke said of Comcast/NBCU, “We feel we have plenty of scale.” That’s certainly true domestically, where he estimated the company’s share of all TV viewing across its networks as about 22% of the total, but much less so on the international front. Comcast had sniffed around 21st Century Fox assets before Disney cemented its deal to acquire most of the company, in large part because of Fox’s potent roster of international networks. That urge to bulk up overseas, he said, drove the decision to announce a bid for pay-TV giant Sky, which Fox had been close to owning in full and Disney plans to operate after its Fox acquisition closes.
Asked if traditional companies facing competition from tech giants should plan to get “bigger or perish,” Burke said, “That’s too dramatic. It’s more like ‘get bigger or miss out on certain opportunities. … You see a landscape and you want to react to the landscape. Sometimes you can overreact.'”
NBC sprinkled a bit of showbiz glitter over the event, which was held at Studio 8H in 30 Rockefeller Center, home to Saturday Night Live. Figure skating analysts Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski emceed the event, and Will & Grace star Sean Hayes delivered a 5-minute synergistic standup set to open the show.
“If you know Steve Burke like I know Steve Burke, then you also struggle to remember his name at a Golden Globes after-party,” Hayes quipped. “You say to yourself, ‘Who is this guy who kind of looks like an airline pilot and why is he walking over here?”