CEO Critical of Apple to Leave NBC

Jeff Zucker

Jeff Zucker

Jeff Zucker, CEO of NBC Universal, will be stepping down from his position once Comcast has finalized its purchase of 51% of the media company. Mr. Zucker, who has often been critical of Apple and argued at one time that Apple should have to pay media companies a portion of iPod hardware sales, told employees he would be leaving the company, and that it wasn’t his choice.

Mr. Zucker has had good times and bad at NBCU, the only company he has ever worked for, according to The New York Times. On the up side, he brought The Today Show to prominence as producer. He has also overseen the rise of NBC’s cable programming, including the USA, SyFy, Bravo, and Oxygen networks, which combine to generate some 80% of his company’s profits.

On the down side, he systematically dismantled NBC’s prime time dominance and “Must See TV” programming in favor of scads of reality TV programming, which coincided with the network watching its ratings plummet. Mr. Zucker was also in charge of the Conan O’Brien/Jay Leno late night programming debacle that has resulted in NBC paying Mr. O’Brien to leave while Mr. Leno generates the lowest ratings in Tonight Show history.

When it comes to Apple, Mr. Zucker was recently critical of Apple’s iTunes TV rental service where users can rent TV shows from the iTunes Store for US$0.99 through a new Apple TV settop box. Mr. Zucker said that such a pricing scheme devalues his company’s content, even while lauding a deal with Netflix that brings more NBC Universal TV content to that company’s unlimited streaming service for a set price as low as $8.99 per month.

He also was behind NBC’s decision to pull its TV programming out of the iTunes Stores in 2007 after Apple refused to raise prices on the NBC shows available for purchase through iTunes. NBC wanted a wholesale price that would have resulted in retail prices as high as $4.99 per episode, more than twice the $1.99 set price Apple offers for online purchases.

NBC then launched its own digital delivery vehicle in conjunction with Fox, Hulu, which offers some shows for free, with commercials (the company recently began offering more shows in a more timely fashion for $9.99 per month). After launching Hulu, NBC came back to iTunes at the same prices as before.

Mr. Zucker admitted that leaving NBC wasn’t his choice — Comcast is apparently intent on installing its own management team at NBC after it completes its takeover of the company. Whether or not Mr. Zucker’s replacement will be any friendlier with Apple remains to be seen, as iTunes is increasingly a competitor of Comcast’s core business of delivering TV and movie content to homes.